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“Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

U.S. Surgeon General,
Richard Carmona,
March 2004

Obesity Epidemic


Over the last 20 years, obesity rates have dramatically increased in the United States.(1) Of the approximately two thirds of adults in the United States who are overweight; more than half of them—more than 72 million—are considered obese.(2,3) In the last decade alone, the rate of diabetes cases has nearly doubled.(4) Most alarming is the increase in overweight and obese children. It is now estimated that one in five children in the U.S. is overweight. In the last 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled and is increasing among younger children, including preschoolers.

Pediatricians now consider overweight children and adolescents to be the most common problem they see, with unhealthy weight gains and unmet nutritional needs causing a myriad of related health problems.(5) According to Marion Nestle, a leading nutritionist and author of the book Food Politics, American children now get 50 percent of their calories from added fat and sugar, while only 1 percent of them eat according to the food pyramid.(6) The implications are sobering: According to former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona, “because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will have increased health problems and a shorter life expectancy than their parents.“ (7)

Childhood obesity trends are supported by the fact that more than 40,000 food commercials are watched by U.S. children every year, and 72 percent of those commercials are for candy, cereal, and fast food.(8) Children who watch Saturday morning cartoons see a commercial for sugary refined foods every five minutes.(9)

Gary Taubes, award-winning science writer, explains that for decades, we have been taught that fat is bad for us, carbohydrates are better, and that the key to a healthy weight is eating less and exercising more. Yet with more and more people acting on this advice, we have seen unprecedented epidemics of obesity and diabetes.(10) He points out the major trends in American diets since the late 1970s, according to U.S.D.A. agricultural economist Judith Putnam, have been a decrease in the percentage of fat calories and a ''greatly increased consumption of carbohydrates.'' To be precise, annual grain consumption has increased by almost 60 pounds per person, and caloric sweeteners (primarily high-fructose corn syrup) by 30 pounds. At the same time, we suddenly began consuming more total calories: now up to 400 more each day since the government started recommending low-fat diets.(11) One major source of the “new” calories in the U.S. diet is sweet beverages such as sodas. U.S soft drink consumption grew 135 percent between 1977 and 2001. A notable change: most soft drinks were made with sucrose (table sugar) in the 1970s; since the 1990s, they have been made with high-fructose corn syrup.(12)

In 2000, for the first time in history, the number of overweight people equaled the number of undernourished people worldwide. Now the number of overweight people—1.3 billion—surpasses the number of undernourished by several hundred million.(13) The global picture is sobering: In 2005, at least 20 million children under the age of five years were overweight. The World Health Organization projects that, by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.(14) The trend has become obvious: As the Western diet of highly refined carbohydrate junk foods reaches developing countries, obesity rates increase. In looking at the statistics, the question must be asked: Are we exposing our children to substances (refined sugars and processed foods) that cannot help but create a generation of young food addicts?

U.S. Obesity Trends –
Maps show Percent of Obese
(Body Mass Index (BMI) > 30) in U.S. Adults


 

References:
  1. US Obesity Trends 1985 – 2007 CDC
  2. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2001-2004)
  3. National Center for Health Statistics survey (2005-2006)
  4. CDC State-by-State review October 2008
  5. Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents ages 6-19 years. Source: CDC/NCHS, NHES and NHANES http://www.obesity.org/information/childhood_overweight.asp
  6. Marion Nestle author of “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health”
  7. U.S Surgeon General Richard Carmona, March 2004
  8. Kunkel, D., B.L. Wilcox, I. Cantor, E, Palmer, S Linn & P. Dowrick (2004) Report on the APA Task Force on Advertising and Children Retrieved October 11, 2006, from http://apa.org/releases/childrenads.pdf
  9. Kelly D. Brownell, PH.D. author of “Food Fight”
  10. Gary Taubes author ” Good Calories Bad Calories”
  11. Gary Taubes author article “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie” Published July 7, 2002
  12. Popkin, B. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, October 2004. News release, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  13. Scientific American September 2007 “A Question of Sustenance” by Gary Stix.
  14. The World Health Organization (WHO) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/index.html