America needs to collectively begin eating a lot healthier if it wants to avoid half of the country becoming obese within the next decade. According to a recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, over half of the nation will be obese by 2030 if a major change in lifestyle isn’t universally adopted.
The study analyzed data from over six million American adults and their standing BMI, or body mass index. Your BMI is your weight in relation to your age and height and how it relates to others in your same demographic. The study’s results reported that 25% of Americans will be deemed as “severely obese” within the next decade, meaning they’ll have a BMI of 35, which roughly translates to being over 100 pounds over the average weight of your age group. The studies head authors are mainly concerned with the “severely obese” data as opposed to the projections for standard obesity, which is a lot more manageable.
“What’s even more concerning is the rise in severe obesity. Nationally, severe obesity — typically over 100 pounds of excess weight — will become the most common BMI category, prevalence will be higher than 25% in 25 states. Currently, only 18% of all Americans are severely obese. If the trend continues, severe obesity would become as prevalent as overall obesity was in the 1990s.” said lead author Zachary Ward, an analyst at Harvard Chan School’s Center for Health Decision Science.
Throughout the past fifty years, a major shift happened in America. Fast food products, processed and artificial foods and beverages grew in popularity, and cheapened in price. Class dynamics shifted, leaving the lower class to fend for themselves in regards to food. Why spend $50 on a day’s worth of groceries when you can buy all three meals for less than $20 at McDonalds? Additionally, sources for exercise and wellness, such as gym memberships or yoga classes, became more elitist and the price point matched, making it nearly impossible for someone making minimum wage to live a healthy and active life, even if they wanted to. So what’s the solution to a problem that has only gotten progressively worse?
“There’s no rosy picture here, but I don’t think we can throw in the towel. It will probably take lots of federal, state and local policy interventions and regulations to have a big impact. We can’t rely on individual behavior change in an environment that is so obesity promoting,” said Aviva Must, chair of Tufts University’s Public Health and Community Medicine, to CNN.
One solution, provided by the study, is to let public schools remain open on the weekends and during the summer to give the public access to their gyms and swimming pools. School grounds can act as a sort of community center, as a cheap way to keep the members of the community active and engaged without hurting their wallet.
Additionally, in regards to the school system, more schools should have access to healthier and more sustainable lunch options for the kids, and all vending machines should offer healthier options over processed chips and candy. These are obviously solutions that would require real systematic policies to be put in place, however, that change can start with you at the local level. Showing up to school budget meetings that are open for the parents and members of the community are important for raising your concerns and having your voice heard.
According to a study done by researchers with Health Affairs, there are three major systematic interventions that have proven in the past to be successful at reducing the growing obesity rate in America. The first change is the elimination of the tax deduction that some businesses receive when they create advertisements for unhealthy food options. Basically, these businesses can write off their ads on their taxes, so it’s like they spend next to nothing on increased advertisements for these processed products.
Improving school snack nutritional standards is the next change, which again has also been slowly implemented in America’s school systems. After Michelle Obama’s policies regarding healthier food options in America’s schools, a real impact was made, and now it’s more a matter of keeping that momentum going. The final suggestion is imposing an excise tax on sugary drinks specifically. The study found that “the [sugary drink] tax saved $30 in health care costs for every dollar spent on the program.”
“If Americans could just keep their current weight instead of gaining, the trends could be reversed. It’s really hard to lose weight. It’s really hard to treat obesity. So prevention really has to be at the forefront of efforts to combat this growing epidemic,” Ward said.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.