United States Obesity Epidemic: Why You Should Take It Seriously

Jan 05, 2022  -  Nutrition & Wellness

Did you know that 1 out of every 3 adults living in the United States is considered obese? That’s right, you heard me right. The obesity epidemic here in the United States is very much a real thing and it just continues to get worse each and every year.

In fact, according to the CDC, the United States obesity rate was 42.4% between 2017 and 2018 which is actually an increase from 30.5% between 1999 and 2000. As I’m sure you can imagine that obesity rate only continues to rise each year, so I can venture an educated guess to say that in 2020-2021 the obesity rate is likely around 50% or very, very close to it. I am sad to say that it isn’t only adults that are affected by obesity, though. Childhood obesity is also on the rise which is an absolute shame. If you take the time to just people watch when you are out and about, chances are you will see a sad sight of overweight or obese children, adolescence and teenagers. The CDC reports that the obesity rate in children aged 2-19 between 2017 and 2018, was 19.3% which is an increase from 18.9% between 2011 and 2014. I can only venture an educated guess to say that those numbers have only continued to increase in both children and adults, especially in 2020 to 2021. I can say with a high level of confidence that it isn’t all your fault. Sure, there are lifestyle habits and behaviors I am sure you can change, but there are a number of factors for this not so healthy trend from the advancement of technology to the rise of fast-food chains and serving sizes.

The current obesity epidemic didn’t just happen overnight. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the general persistent upward trend began shortly after World War II. During that time Americans were so much healthier and active either through physical activity or daily chores. During the 1950’s, less than 10% of Americans were obese, however, as fast-food restaurants and processed foods took control over our food supply and diets, that number has seen a drastic and sharp increase. So, what changed that caused the problem we are facing today here in the United States and Worldwide?

Well, with the rise of fast-food accessibility came the rise of portions. Fast food restaurants have become a staple in the American diet. In fact, about the time McDonalds opened its first drive thru window in 1975, the obesity rate in the United States climbed to 15% and has continued to rise to where it is today at close to 50%! We as a society have become vastly reliant on the convenience of this type of food, but at what price? Now this isn’t to say McDonalds alone is the reason for this spike. McDonalds just happens to be the most popular and most accessible fast-food chain. McDonalds alone has about 31,000 restaurants worldwide with a presence in 126 countries and 6 continents. Fast food is present in everybody’s life on almost a daily basis. But why are they super popular and how did we become a society of convenience?  For the purpose of this course, we are going to talk about McDonalds specifically because of its popularity.

Just like most things, there are many factors that contribute to our obsession with fast food. For starters, fast food is extremely convenient and addictive. For the most part, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your car to order and pickup your food. It doesn’t get more convenient than that, right!? Fast food is fast and convenient, sure, but it is also loaded with the vast majority of its nutrition obtained from fat, sodium and sugar. And this, my friends, is where the addictive quality of fast and convenient foods come from. As you can imagine, as more and more Americans continue to consume fast food on a regular basis, their cravings continue to increase along with their waistline. As fast-food restaurants continue to rise, so have serving sizes which, according to a 2002 study in the “American Journal of Public Health,” likely has an impact on the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Over the years, serving sizes have gotten completely out of control. In my opinion, fast-food and even the food industry as a whole has no regard for our health and well-being. For example, the serving sizes from the 1950’s to today have increased a whopping nearly 200%! 200%! So, it is no coincidence that there is an obesity epidemic! There is a direct correlation between the rise of fast-food chains and the obesity rates. So, I am here to say that it is not completely your fault, and you aren’t alone! But with that being said, let us not forget about the role technology plays in contributing to our increased waistlines.

Think for a second, how was life when you were growing up. When you were growing up, did you have a cell phone or laptop? Did you have to get up to physically turn the tv on or change the channel? Did you spend your free time outside of homework playing with the neighborhood kids outside? Think about those things and then think about what life is like for kids growing up today. How drastically different is it? Throughout history there have been many technological advances in all facets of life. From the invention of the wheel thousands of years ago to the invention of household appliances such as the telephone, computers, washers/dryers, vacuum cleaners, etc., which were all invented to make work and life less physically demanding and decrease manual labor. Makes sense, right? Most of us seek ways to make tasks simpler. It has become human nature. Well, while advances in technology have provided many benefits, it has created many downsides. As technology continues to advance and make our lives easier, we have become accustomed to living a more sedentary lifestyle. We no longer have to get up to change the channel on the tv. Heck! We even have a vacuum cleaner that runs on its own. We don’t even have to physically vacuum our carpets anymore. We as a society have begun to live a less physically demanding and active lifestyle and transitioned to a more sedentary life.

Think about it, how physically active were you when you were growing up? Well, when I was growing up, internet and cell phones weren’t quite a thing yet and video games were still relatively new. I was always found outside playing sports and running around with the other neighborhood kids. Now a days you don’t see that. You find the new generation of kids plugged into the tv, computer or their phone 24/7. There are well established associations between internet usage, for instance, and sedentary behavior that have contributed to obesity in both children and adults. Now this isn’t to say this is the fault of the technology, but there is most definitely a correlation between advances of technology and decreased physical activity.

The bottom line here is that the current trajectory of the obesity epidemic due in part to the rise of fast-food chains and advances in technology in the United States is concerning.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a single or simple solution to the obesity epidemic. As you can see, it is a super complex problem and there has to be a multifaceted approach, much of which we will dig into in the upcoming modules throughout this course. I bet you are asking yourself right now what you can do. Technology and fast food surely aren’t going away, so how can you fight the trend? The best thing to do is to start with working on yourself and hope that those close to you will follow suit and sort of spider web out from there. Start with the obvious solutions such as cutting down your consumption of processed, sugary and fatty foods, stay current on your annual physical checkups, maybe see a mental health professional, eat your fruits and vegetables, and exercise even if for 20 minutes. Of course, limit your screen time whether it is tv, computer, or phone consumption. It is so easy to get caught mindlessly scrolling on your phone or internet or even watch 1 too many episodes of your favorite show.

That being said, my #1 recommendation is to ask yourself the right questions. Meaning ask yourself why you are in your current situation. Ask yourself why and keep asking yourself why with every answer you give until you get so deep it becomes uncomfortable. That is when you know you’ve hit the jackpot and possibly uncovered your root cause! Once you get to the root cause of your weight gain and unhealthy behaviors that is when you take action that will allow positive change to happen. Remember, this is a long game we are playing, so we’ve only just begun!