Obesity is a huge problem. There are controversial ads in my home state of Georgia talking about how dangerous childhood obesity is, talking heads are saying how 30% of children are expected to be obese by 2030, and that this generation of kids will be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. It almost seems that despite our best efforts, we are headed to a dystopia not unlike the Disney film Wall-E where we are all obese, confined to a chair, plugged into a screen all day, slurping food through a straw.
New data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a group that has been measuring the height and weight of adults suggest that this astronomical growth in obesity rates is beginning to slow. Yet, far too many people are obese and it will continue to be one of the greatest public health issues of our time. Fortunately, the data from the NHANES study show that the rates of obesity in 2009-2010 for both children and adults has not changed from their 2003-2008 levels for adults (35.5% for men and 35.8% for women) and the 2007-2008 level for children (16.9%).
What caused this slowing? No one is sure yet but there are reasonable guesses. Obesity has a host of factors that contribute to it. Some foresee this new plateau rate of obesity as the new norm – due to family predisposition, crummy diets, and too much screen time. However, I caution against this pessimistic conclusion, because it means we do not have control over how fat we, as a population, get.
I am an optimist. I would like to think that maybe, just maybe, all of the work we have been doing for the past decade or so to educate and empower our population to make good eating choices, and get exercising is beginning to pay dividends. Maybe this is a plateau before the fall of obesity rates, maybe this change is due to our hard work and our desire as a population to be more healthy.
Surely both the optimistic and pessimistic ideas have some truth to them, but I think that this change is a sign that things are improving. It is a worthwhile effort to get people to make healthier choices. This is a sign for us to keep up the good work. This is a mandate to eat more vegetables, skip the soda and snack aisle at the grocery store, and go for a family walk before watching American Idol. If everyone makes little improvements, every day, we can change as a population for the better.
Dr. Bruce Feinberg