Well, here is more bad news in case the coronavirus epidemic isn’t enough. We are getting fatter. The new obesity numbers show that 42.4% of Americans are obese (BMI over 30). And, guess what? Preliminary evidence shows that many patients who have died from COVID-19 were obese.
But, if 42.4% isn’t enough, another 31.8% of Americans are considered overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9). That means only 26% of Americans have a normal body weight. Well, maybe not even 26% are normal weigh as some of that 26% are underweight which has its own health consequences. At this rate the percentage of obese Americans is projected to be 48.9% by the year 2030.
More Obesity Numbers
Obesity has a significant economic impact, too, beyond the health impact (cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancers). An additional, $3,429 is spent per obese person per year, totally over $446 billion dollars.
Who is affected most by obesity? Those in lower socioeconomic status, women, and African-Americans are most affected by obesity.
Obesity is the underlying cause in 20% of deaths in this country. We have discussed BMI previously. A 5-point increase in BMI is associated with a 30% increased mortality risk.
Causes for the Obesity Surge
There are many reasons for this obesity surge. Lifestyles are more sedentary and unhealthy diets are at the root of the surge in obesity we are witnessing.
A big culprit is the over consumption of ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed foods now account for 60% of calorie intake today. Ultra- processed foods are foods that have been so modified or altered that they barely resemble their whole-food or natural state.
Ultra-processed food contains modified starches, hydrogenated oils, and additives. They are typically ready-to-eat foods with minimal preparation needed. They include carbonated drinks, chips, ice cream, breakfast cereals, and prepared frozen meals.
Would you like to live 10 years longer? Eliminate ultra-processed foods from your diet. Those population groups that consume the least amount of ultra-processed foods live 10 years longer than we in the United States. These groups live in Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. These locations are know as blue zones.
Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda was associated with a 18% increase in obesity. But, here is something perhaps more shocking. Artificially-sweetened diet soda is associated with a 59% increased risk of obesity. Artificial sweeteners alter the gut microbiome – the healthy micro-organisms that keep us healthy.
Overweight and Mortality
Those who are overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9) have a 13% increased risk of death compared to those who are normal weight.
Negative Health Consequences to Excess Weight
Beyond the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancers carrying around excess body weight has other negative health consequences. Below are are additional medical problems related to obesity and being overweight,
- Sleep apnea.
- Gall bladder disease.
- Fatty liver disease.
- Chronic pain (lower back, hip, and knees).
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
To avoid being an obesity number or simply an overweigh statistic eat healthy. That means eating whole foods (foods in their natural state) while limiting high glycemic carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, breads, and pastas.
Avoid being sedentary which is challenging during this COVID-19 pandemic. Even going for walks, even if that is all you do, will combat obesity. Not too long ago as I was walking I ran into a patient of mine who has started walking more since the coronavirus outbreak and he told me he has lost 8 pounds in the past 6 weeks. So being active does help combat obesity.