America’s Obesity Epidemic – a BIG Problem

Fatty Food, from HBO's The Weight of the NationNow that all four episodes of The Weight of the Nation have aired on HBO, I’m updating this article with new information, important statistics, and embedded versions of the trailer and each episode.

Obesity is a really BIG problem (excuse the pun), and with over two thirds (69%) of us overweight or obese,  it’s now the largest threat to the health, wellness and future survival of our nation. Obesity has become an epidemic that needs swift action and an unprecedented public health campaign. Otherwise, we’ll end up like those fat Axiom characters in Pixar’s movie, Wall-E, and we’ll bankrupt America.

I hope everyone young & old will watch HBO’s The Weight of the Nation. It’s a four-part documentary that premiered on Monday, May 14 to explore our uphill battle with obesity. If you prefer to watch on your TV or want to learn more, you can visit the link above to buy the CD or the book that it’s based on. (An online version of the book is free.)

The Trailer


HBO and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences bring you the nation’s foremost experts and research on weight and weight loss. They explain how we got to this unhealthy place, what it will do to our health care system if we continue on our current path, and how we can overcome forces that drive us to eat too much and move too little. In short, To win, we have to lose.

The Statistics

I added these statistics from the documentary to the webpage, Statistics define the Health Care Problem and Market Opportunity. Included is information about how to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) and determine how you measure up. If you’re a visual person, you may prefer the infographic that follows.

GALLOP Obesity Poll shows rising public opinion of Obesity as America's most urgent health problem, growing from 1% in 1999 to 16% believing that in 2012.

Obese and Overweight People have Less Fun, More Pain, Die Earlier, Earn Less, and Cost More.

  • 2 out of 3 adults (69%) are overweight or obese, and experts project that 32-52% will be obese by 2030. The result is Misery and Economic Costs.
    • $190 billion, or 21% of our annual medical spending, goes to obesity-related illness, because weighing too much increases your risk for chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, asthma, sleep apnea, and other serious illnesses.
    • >$300 billion/year is the 2018 estimate if we continue on our current path.
    • As businesses lose $4.3 billion due to obesity-related job absenteeism and another $70 billion in lost productivity, they off-shore jobs to avoid rising health costs and thus contribute to our economic decline.
    • With more of our taxes going to Healthcare, less is available for Education, Fire, Police and Armed Forces.
  • 1 of 3 children are overweight or obese (18% are obese).
    • Obese adolescents aged 12-19 years increased from 5% in 1980 to 18% in 2008.
    • Only 10% of parents seek medical help for their obese children.
    • Kids obese by age 10 will die 19 years earlier with diminished quality of life.
    • About half of obese teenage girls will become morbidly obese by age 30.
    • 1/3 of children born since year 2000 will develop diabetes.
    • Children now consume >7.5 hours of media a day and are subjected to advertising that promotes the most Profitable foods.
    • Up to 34% of adolescents skip breakfast every day.
    • In 2008, just 18% of children in grades 9-12 got an hour of physical activity daily since no federal law requires physical education (PE).
    • Just 4% of US elementary schools, 8% of middle schools, and 2% of high schools provide daily physical activity or education.
    • It’s Much, Much better to Prevent obesity and related health problems than to care for them later.

To do Nothing is to sentence kids to death or a life of pain and discomfort.

  • Less than 19% of Americans get the recommended amount of physical activity.
    • Fewer adults Walk to work (4.1% in 1977; 2.8% in 2008), and over 75% now Drive (up 300% since 1960).
    • Jobs requiring even moderate physical exertion plummeted from 50% to 20% in the last 50 years.
    • Fewer kids walk to school (20.2% in 1977; 12.5% in 2001). Over 80% are now driven while in 1969 42% walked or biked.
    • High school kids spend less time in phys-ed classes (41.6% in 1991; 33.3% in 2009)
  • Moderate behavior changes could Prevent more than 90% of type 2 diabetes, 80% of coronary artery disease, 70% of stroke, and 70% of colon cancer. (Harvard epidemiologist Walter C. Willett)
    • About 26M adults & children have diabetes, 79M are pre-diabetic, and every 10 seconds a person dies from diabetes related causes.
    • Obese people are 83% more likely to develop kidney disease.
    • As many as 25% of American adults have excess fat in their liver.
    • Overweight & obese people are 80% more likely to develop dementia.
    • 20% of cancer deaths in women and 14% in men are due to obesity.
    • Some 60M Americans have asthma and/or allergies.
    • Over two-thirds of people with arthritis are overweight or obese.
  • There is a direct relationship between poverty and obesity.
    • Public health officials can accurately predict obesity and longevity rates by zip codes. One inner city example had an average lifespan of just 64 years versus 90 years for a wealthier neighborhood 8 miles away.
    • Disadvantaged communities are at higher risk for many preventable health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis B and C, and infant mortality.
    • That’s partially due to the lack of fresh and nutritious food at affordable prices and the lack of sidewalks and parks that encourage exercise.
    • Pressures from Job, Money, Divorce and Violence cause a vicious cycle of Stress = Obesity = Stress … (Exercise helps relieve that stress.)
  • The CDC body mass index (BMI calculator) for ages 20+ estimates your body fat as a ratio of weight & height.
    • Underweight (less than 18.5)
    • Healthy weight (18.5 – 24.9)
    • Overweight (25 – 29.9)
    • Obese (30 and above)
    • Morbidly Obese (40 and above)
  • Our DNA has not changed as we consume more calories and burn less, but our Environment has.
    • Sugar-sweetened beverages (and juices) became the largest source of sugar in our diets as consumption increased 135% since 1977.
    • Profit margins for soft drinks are about 90%, compared to just 10% for fresh produce.
    • The cost of soft drinks rose less than inflation between 1985 and 2000 (~20%) while the cost of fruits and vegetables rose 117%
    • $30-40 billion/year in farm subsidies are costing hundreds of billions in healthcare costs.
      • As over 75% of government subsidies go to the largest companies, nearly 50% of US farmland is planted with corn & soy, only 3% is planted with fruits & vegetables, and family farms are going under.
    • Restaurant revenues increased from $43 billion in 1970 to $558 billion today, and portion sizes have dramatically.
      • Coke: 20 oz / 250 calories versus 6.5 oz / 85 calories 20 years ago
      • French Fries: 6.9 oz / 610 calories versus 2.4 oz / 210 calories 20 years ago
      • Pizza slice: 4 oz / 425 calories versus 1.5 oz / 250 calories 20 years ago
    • It’s cheaper to eat an unhealthy diet. Just compare these options at McDonald’s:
      • McDouble ($1.00 / 390 calories) versus Southwest Salad ($3.79 / 140  calories)
      • Large Coke ($1.00 / 310 calories) versus Bottled Water ($1.19 / 0 calories)

The Weight of the Nation - Infographic

8 thoughts on “America’s Obesity Epidemic – a BIG Problem

  1. For instance, a 2000 study performed on 500 weight loss surgery patients showed that nearly 96% of health conditions associated with obesity – such as high blood pressure, depression, sleep apnea, back pain and diabetes – improved greatly following loss of excess weight and long-term commitment to diet and exercise.


    U.S. life expectancy varies by more than 20 years from county to county (Washington Post, 5/8/2017)

    Poverty in America — living below The Line The Line is an important documentary that covers the stories of people across the country living at or below the poverty line. They have goals. They have children. They work hard. They are people like you and me. But they don’t have easy access to nutritious food or safe places to play and exercise.

    How Everybody Can Win the War Against Big Food (Forbes. I commented)

    The food industry contributes to the obesity problem, but so does other factors such as poverty. Public health officials, for example, can reliably estimate average weight and lifespan by zip code and have noticed lifespan differences of over 20 years between poor neighborhoods on one side of town and affluent ones on the other.

    I hope everyone young & old will watch two important documentaries. First is Food, Inc. (94 min at Next is HBO’s The Weight of the Nation (trailer & all 4 episodes at, along with statistics about the obesity problem.

    2.2 billion people are overweight and sick, but we’re still measuring them by a terrible metric (Popular Science)

    U.S. pays high price for obesity (CBS News, I commented)

    The Link Between Processed Food and Cancer (TIME)

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