The Epidemic Threatening the U.S.: Obesity

Amid all the frenzy across the media about the coronavirus, a disturbing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study dropped last month with barely a ripple. It found that the obesity rate in the U.S. continues to edge up, from 40 percent in a 2015-16 study to 42 percent in the current 2017-18 study.

Our concierge family doctors in Jupiter find this result concerning because obesity is implicated in increased risk for many serious diseases. Fifty years ago, about 10 percent of Americans were considered obese. If the current trend continues, researchers project that nearly half of us will be obese in 10 years.

Obesity is considered one of the nation’s leading public health problems. The effects of this epidemic have already begun to ripple throughout the health care system. Although not as attention-grabbing as COVID-19, it is in fact a more insidious threat to our overall health.


What is obesity?

Obesity means more than being overweight; it means being seriously overweight. It is measured by the body mass index (BMI), which you can calculate here.

A BMI of 25 or greater is considered overweight, while a BMI of 30 or above is obese. A BMI that is over 35—or about 100 pounds over normal weight—is considered severe obesity.

“Obesity is essentially an inflammatory disease,” according to Gökhan Hotamisligil, professor of genetics and metabolism at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Excess calories affect the fat cells in such a way that they mount an immune response,” he told the magazine Paradigm.

“You’re activating the immune system without a legitimate pathogen. You’re constantly activating your immune system at a low level in such a way that it releases chemicals that start contributing to inflammation.”


Health consequences

According to the CDC, those who have obesity, compared with those who are a normal weight, are at increased risk for:

  • high blood pressure
  • high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and high levels of dangerous triglycerides
  • type 2 diabetes
  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • gallbladder disease
  • osteoarthritis
  • sleep apnea and breathing problems
  • at least 12 types of cancers
  • mental illness, including clinical depression, anxiety, and similar other disorders
  • body pain and difficulty with physical functioning
  • all causes of death


In addition, other research has linked obesity to:

  • menstrual problems, pregnancy complications, infertility, and impotence
  • pancreatitis and fatty pancreas
  • nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • kidney stones and chronic kidney disease
  • immune system impairment and inflammation


Obesity can also cause complications with anesthesia during surgery and has been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as impacting the general quality of life, self-esteem, and self-image.


Even a little bit makes a difference

But it’s not just obesity that’s a problem. Being above normal weight is also unhealthy, and the effects begin to show with every pound added. Here are some of the health benefits of losing just 10 pounds:

  • reduced risk of knee and hip issues
  • better sleep/lower risk of sleep apnea
  • lower blood pressure
  • lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • improved liver and kidney function
  • lower risk of heart attack

Finally, there’s the overall effect of feeling better in general.


Best diets

If you need to lose weight, we’d advise against the myriad quick-loss diets you’ll find in magazines or on the Internet. Slow and steady is the proven method to lose safely and have the best chance of maintaining the loss.

Here are our top three recommendations:

  1. DASH

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is effective for both short- and long-term weight loss.

The best part of the DASH way of eating is its lack of strict rules. Instead, it provides more in the way of guidelines. These include: eating more fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, fish, poultry, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy, and less full-fat dairy products, fatty meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, and sweets. It emphasizes variety, portion size, and natural foods.


  1. Mediterranean

The Mediterranean diet also rejects calorie counting and forbidding certain foods, and simply shifts emphasis towards healthier fare and away from those foods that are known to pile on weight and trigger health issues.

This diet focuses on seafood, nuts, fresh produce, olive oil, and beans, while reducing consumption of red meat, dairy, sugar, processed foods, and saturated fat.


  1. Mayo Clinic Diet

If weight loss is your primary goal, this is an excellent diet to follow. Once you pass the first two weeks of fairly restrictive eating, no foods are completely forbidden. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, high-fiber carbohydrates, seafood, and nuts. It promises you’ll drop six to ten pounds during the first two weeks, with a slower, steady loss of one to two pounds per week after that until you reach your goal weight.


If none of these methods appeal to you, let us help you select one that best matches your needs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *