Many people scoff at weight problems as something that an individual should be in control over and not complain about. After all, if you’re overweight, isn’t the simple solution to just exercise more and eat less? Maybe. But if it were that easy, there wouldn’t be such a staggering obesity epidemic in the United States!

“Epidemic” seems like a dramatic word to use. But how else would you describe a twofold increase in the cases of obesity in the United States just over the past two decades? In the early 1980’s and certainly the years before then, issues of weight were rarely ever talked about. It simply wasn’t a major concern.

However, in the 21st century, it’s one of the leading health problems in America and what’s so especially troublesome about obesity is it closely related to almost thirty medical conditions, some life-threatening. Basically, a person who is severely overweight is at an increased risk for heart attack, hypertension, glaucoma, cancer of the colon, uterus, breast, and esophagus, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, depression, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and much more.

So who is the at-risk population? How many Americans struggle with weight problems, obesity in particular? Obesity is more prevalent in the United States than any other country, including other Western industrialized regions like the United Kingdom. And it’s not just adults suffering from weight problems – but children and adolescents too! According to the National Institutes of Health, 17% of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years were overweight in 2004. And what’s more alarming is 32.2% of adults suffer from obesity (that’s almost 90 million) – which is a dangerous step up from just being plain overweight. Another 30% of Americans are simply overweight.

And these percentages are only expected to rise. Dr. Marion Nestle has deemed the obesity epidemic “astronomical.” We may not be dealing with just a health problem in America – but a health emergency.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 300,000 deaths a year are associated with obesity and that in the year 2000 alone, obesity cost the national economy $117 million.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Americans living in Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia are the most at-risk population for obesity. But other states, unfortunately, aren’t that far behind. Only a handful of states have obesity rates under 20% (they are mostly in New England).

The national government has a goal to reduce the obesity rate to less than 15% for United States adults, but at the current rates, that is not a goal that can be achieved easily. In fact, obesity seems to be a problem that’s getting worse, not better.

There is a silver lining, however. Obesity, while it is encouraged by genetic factors out of one’s control, is mostly a result of one’s behavior and environment. Thus, it can be treated fairly easily. Secondly, the obesity problem is a new one that mushroomed in just twenty years. This means that it is a problem that can be fixed, perhaps in the same, short period of time that it took hold of the country.

The key to the solution to the obesity epidemic is not to overlook its many complicated causes. In today’s society, where there is urban sprawl, tons of television shows and video games to be preoccupied with, easy, convenient, but innutritious fast food around every corner, and little leisure time or opportunity for physical activity, it is all too easy to fall into a lifestyle where one can gain weight fast. But recognizing the pitfalls of an affluent culture is the first step to solving the problem at hand.

It is sometimes difficult to correct old habits, so an important way to combat the obesity epidemic is to connect with youth and prevent these habits from ever starting! If children can learn to eat well and incorporate exercise into their daily routine, then the rates of obesity may just start to decline as they grow up and become adults. Educational programs, good parenting, and nutritious cafeteria food can make a big difference for kids.

But as of right now, 30.2% is a significant number. Are you a part of that percentage? If you want to find out if you are at a healthy weight, you don’t have to make a trip to the doctor’s office. But you also have to do more than just weigh yourself on the scale. To figure out if you are of an average weight, calculate your body mass index or BMI.

BMI is determined by three numbers: your height in inches, your weight in pounds, and a conversion factor of 703. First, square your height. In other words, if you are 65 inches tall, then multiple 65 by 65. Then take your weight and divide it by that number (4225). For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, you will dive 130 by 4225. Now take the fraction that you’ve calculated by this point and multiply it by 703. Now you have your BMI! In this case, the BMI is about 21.6. A healthy BMI should lie somewhere between 18.5 and 24.9. If you have a BMI below 18.5 or above 25, then you are either underweight or overweight. But don’t be too concerned about a few extra pounds. Only if you have a BMI that exceeds 30, are you obese. And there’s a 30% chance you’re obese.

Remember that to calculate the BMI for a child or teen you will use the same formula but you will have to compare your child’s BMI to the BMI’s of other children of the same age and gender in order to determine if it’s healthy. So don’t use the same BMI guidelines for adults as you would for children.

Obesity is too often misunderstood by people who don’t take it seriously, but it is indeed a chronic and very dangerous problem that plagues too many Americans. However, as the percentage of obese Americans continues to increase, research about obesity is also on the rise so there is hope for a thinner, healthier future.

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