Most, if not all, problems in the United States have to do with the economy, and the obesity epidemic is no exception to this rule.
Obesity is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a body mass index, or weight category, of 30 or more, whereas overweight is a BMI from 25 to 29.9. Today, more than one-third of American adults are obese, according to the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation. The total number of overweight and obese adults is an even more striking 68 percent. In fact, the United States has one of the highest obesity rates among member nations of the OEEC, and obesity accounts for five to 10 percent of the government’s health expenditures.
When President Obama entered office, First Lady Michelle Obama began initiatives to make Americaby educating citizens about nutrition. The most recent campaign, Let’s Move, pushes to educate youth about health and exercise.
Ultimately, economics, not education, is the root of this problem. Individuals with poor diets have typically been found to have lower incomes and shop at low-cost grocery stores with fewer healthy food options, according to a study done at the University of Washington. And poor families are more likely to spend their money on food with more calories per dollar.
USA Today recently published a list of the most obese states in the United States by percentage. When putting this data side by side with the list of richest and poorest states, it is fair to conclude that, generally, poorer states have higher obesity rates than wealthier states. Mississippi, for exam
ple, is the poorest state as well as the most obese.
Obesity rates also have seemingly increased simultaneously with an increase in U.S. national debt. From 1988 to 1994, obesity spiked in adults of all income and education levels. In this time, national debt was moving on an upward slope before it stagnated in 1995. From 2007 to 2008, obesity again went up for all adult individuals regardless of income and education at a time when the United States’ debt increased to $5 trillion from $4.5 trillion. As the economy suffers, so does the health of Americans.
High obesity rates also present problems on an individual level. A study by the CDC estimates that, on average, a 50-point increase in BMI causes an estimated 6.6 percent drop in a student’s grade point average. In turn, obese individuals are less likely to continue school. This problem, however, is not easily fixed. As it stands now, it is very costly to reform an individual’s diet. Even taking on a sport such as track can take on a hefty price tag. From clothing, sneakers, gym memberships, doctor check-ups and race registration fees, this would not be a viable option for those living in the poorest states.
The government needs a new approach to target obesity. It is undeniably costing our government hundreds of millions of dollars per year, but for an individual to prevent or eliminate obesity, the cost is unaffordable. Getting the nation’s economy on track is a step toward a healthier America, both fiscally and nutritionally.
Liz Beras is a contributing columnist. Email her at email@example.com.