Dr. Michael Omdi discusses the recent statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relating to the obesity rate in the United States.
Childhood obesity is improving in a minor way across the United States, thanks to public initiatives and a national awareness campaign by First Lady Michelle Obama. However, the adult obesity rate has actually increased, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The exclamation that childhood obesity has declined by 43 percent is true – depending upon how one looks at the data. The decrease that is being lauded is, in reality, among 2-5 year-olds which decreased from 13.9 percent to 8 percent.
The good news is that low income children participating in federal health education, physical education and healthy meal plans seem to be benefiting from the lifestyle changes. However, it is also possible that this is the result in the typical statistical fluctuations that have been known to occur in the surveyed subjects. Recent studies that have found that a major predictor of obesity and weight issues in adults is obesity between the ages of 2-5, so if this group experiences a drop in obesity, in the long term, this is the generation that might benefit the most in the sense of struggling with weight the least.
Adults are a different story. Previous survey years, 2003-2004 and 2009-2010 indicated that the adult obesity rate was at 30 percent – and it still is. However, among women aged 60 years and older, the rate has increased from 31.5 to 38 percent.
Obesity, which has been classified as a disease by the American Medical Association, seems to merit intervention. It is a legitimate indicator of potentially fatal health events, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Reducing the obesity rate will be a strong step towards lowering and preventing the epidemic of preventable illnesses. But if the obesity rate statistics are fluctuating and not markedly declining, are the initiatives really working?
Awareness campaigns might have led to the drop in obesity in 2-5 year olds. The perils of regular consumption of sugary drinks has declined, and the breast feeding rate has gone up. It is widely believed that artificial behavioral changes – such as new laws and programs targeting eating – do not work. People rebel; they feel as though their rights are being infringed upon. However, it is also argued that if the programs enter the culture and last more than a generation, there is the possibility that behaviors are modified in subtle and lasting ways.
So, what about the adults who actually got fatter? We can only speculate, but there has not been the same flood of public programs geared toward them. Although calorie listings have become mandatory in many cities, the older we get, the more deeply ingrained our habits become, and lifestyle changes are not typically made unless a major health event forces the issue.
As tempting as it may be to want significant changes to occur overnight, it might not exactly be a societal failure if they do not. Behavior changes evolve over time, and even though they might not be apparent immediately, incremental shifts can make a big difference. While we must continue to monitor progress, we have to nevertheless stick to the programs already in place, because abandoning them for several years and then returning to them suddenly will yield no results at all.
 Walton, Alice: Still Struggling: U.S. Obesity Rates Largely Unchanged Over Last 10 Years Forbes Magazine 2/26/2014 http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/02/26/still-struggling-u-s-obesity-rates-stalled-over-the-last-10-years/