Although the extent and impact of obesity is widely recognized in the medical community, this level of heightened awareness does not extend to the general populace. A 2019 Gallup poll found ideas about what constitutes “ideal” weight has been on a slow but steady increase. Currently the average weight of American adults is 178 pounds, and although this exceeds perceived ideal weight by more than 10 percent, fewer feel the need to lose weight. Only 38 percent of Americans describe themselves as overweight, but the Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 70 percent of adults over age 20 have overweight or obesity. The numbers just don’t add up!
This increase has been steady over the past several decades. Between 1960 and 2016, obesity rates have risen nearly 30 percent. In addition, more people now say they weigh at least 200 pounds, an increase of 24 percent from the last decade. While men are more likely to be in this category (42 percent), 14 percent of women also indicated they weigh over 200 pounds. Although the number of women is smaller, it is nonetheless a great concern because the average weight of women is 159 pounds, compared to an average weight of 196 pounds for men, so the percentage of increase is notably higher. Clearly we have become more comfortable with our weight.
An argument can be made for the importance of self-acceptance; however, there is an obvious need for greater awareness about the severe, negative health impacts of obesity. Obesity is an epidemic and understanding it as a health issue, versus an image issue, must be elevated beyond the medical community to the greater population.
Addressing the many factors contributing to obesity extends beyond the capacity of the medical community. Poor food options, portion control, food deserts, access to health care and other social determinants require a broader, more comprehensive intervention. However, it is no longer prudent or acceptable to wait for national intervention; change must happen and it must be now. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommend major reforms, including a call to health care providers, insurers and other relevant organizations to take a leadership role in making obesity prevention a focus. This makes good sense because primary care physicians have relationships with patients and thus can monitor, educate and, if necessary, refer patients to weight loss centers that can help them deal with the challenges they face.
Obesity is a health crisis with a financial domino effect that impacts everyone in a community, regardless of their individual weight. It is clear that an immediate change is needed on local, national and global levels, and it is incumbent on anyone who has the knowledge and resources to initiate that change, even on a very small scale, to take the initiative.