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Americans Are Gaining Weight Every Decade

September 19, 2016

Obesity already is an epidemic in the U.S., and a recent report indicates that Americans aren’t moving in the right direction when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.

The average American has put on at least 15 pounds over the last 20 years, according to a report by The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (CDC). The report is a result of an analysis of more than 19,000 people who underwent medical examinations and whom researchers interviewed.

The statistics show that the average weight of an American man increased from 181 to 196 pounds between 1988-1994 and between 2011-2014. The average American woman’s weight increased from 152 to 169 over the same period. Children also gained weight. Eleven-year-old girls gained an average of seven pounds during the period researchers analyzed, while boys gained more than 13 pounds. In most of these cases, weight gain occurred even when heights remained nearly the same.

These figures indicate that Americans have gained not only pounds, but also a higher Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of weight in relation to height. BMI has four ranges: underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese. Unfortunately, these new statistics indicate that most Americans are trending toward the latter two categories. A higher BMI is associated with more health risks, including obesity and chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

I wish I could say these statistics were surprising, but they aren’t. Study after study has shown just how much of a problem — and a challenge — obesity is in America. As I recently wrote in my last blog, worldwide obesity rates have more than doubled in the last 26 years, according to the World Health Organization. And America is unfortunately at the top of this list. Data shows that 36 percent of American adults and 30 percent of American children are obese.

The question is why?

Several factors contribute to all these statistics. Top of the list is lack of exercise and poor diet. We’re a less active and more sedentary country now (thanks in part to technology and a shift away from industrial labor). Portion sizes also are much larger than they used to be. Portion sizes have doubled or tripled over the last 20 years, according to government data. For example, the average size of a hamburger patty 20 years ago was 4 ounces. Today, it’s 8 ounces. Drinks used to be around 6 ounces apiece. Now, they’re 20 ounces. Bigger isn’t always better, and these super-sized portions are contributing greatly to the country’s obesity problem.

We have to do something to shift this trend, or else we’ll see rates of chronic disease rise even more — putting more pressure on the health care system in the process. The simplest solution is encouraging more people to get and stay active and to make healthier choices. But that’s much easier to say than to actually put into practice. There has to be systemic change to combat obesity. The new food labels are a step in the right direction, because they will make consumers more informed about what they’re eating so they hopefully can make better food choices. However, prevention programs, especially in at-risk communities, is critical. Teaching kids about proper nutrition early — in school and at home — can help us ensure the next generation doesn’t encounter this same crisis.

But regardless, these statistics are alarming and show that we have an urgent problem with obesity that we can’t continue to ignore.