A recent study presented to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Weight of the Nation conference projects that if Americans keep getting heavier at the current rate, 42 percent of us will be obese by 2030. That means, in less than 20 years, we will be sharing our country with an additional 32 million obese Americans, causing us to pony up a whopping $549.5 billion — over half a trillion dollars — in medical expenditures between now and then.
For comparison, the obesity rate has been hovering at an already-alarming 36 percent, or about 78 million adults, for the last decade. The projected increase will swell the ranks of the obese (no pun intended) to north of 100 million. In addition, the severely obese — about 100 pounds over healthy weight — will more than double from its current five percent to 11 percent.
We know obese folks are at greater risk for a multitude of weight-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea and even cancer. Obviously, they therefore will account for a greater proportion of medical costs. “They also have a much shorter life expectancy and generate greater lifetime medical costs, suggesting that future health care costs may continue to increase even if obesity prevalence levels off,” the study’s authors say.
There is a minor bright spot, albeit more a dim bulb than a spotlight. Researchers discovered that although obesity is increasing, it’s increasing at a decreasing rate. (You take your good news where you find it.) Unhappily, the data did not include children, so, on the other hand, these estimates might be low, as obese kids typically become obese grown-ups.
Forty-two percent is (obviously) almost half the population.
Therefore, moving it from macro to micro, if you’re in a room with only one other person; either you or he will be — or is currently — obese. If not you, it’s your sister, your husband, your child, your best friend, your parent, or most likely, several people you care about. Obesity affects not only the afflicted, but also every soul who loves, or interacts with, someone who’s obese — and, for better or worse, that’s every solitary, single one of us.
I am not writing this to make us aware of a problem of which we previously were ignorant.
Rather, I am concerned about the “fat wars” appearing to be more prevalent as this problem continues. Sadly, there is a “we” versus “them” mentality in the battle against obesity.
I’ve heard commentators, cohorts, and columnists define the obese in harsh and snide terms: lazy, sloppy, or as uncaring louts only draining our collective health care. Certainly, with a percentage of them, there might be an element of truth. Yet, it’s equally factual that those descriptors would also apply to a percentage of thin people, young people, tall people, rich people, old people, and smart people. Obese people are people. And they are merely a subset of our society. Whereby we all have unhealthy habits, theirs cannot be hidden behind closed doors. More importantly, before those of us in the “thin and healthy” camp point our extremely fit fingers at those on the “other side,” perspective must be established.
WE, collectively, have created a culture that — for whatever reason — is causing an epidemic.
Therefore, WE must solve it. However, before some of us self-righteously affix blame and wash our hands of “their” problem, we better understand that if we don’t all help each other, and do so with the foremost goals being health and compassion, we will certainly all sink together.