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An Overview of the Weight Crisis in America

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Body mass index (BMI) is a simple formula used to make a general assessment of a person’s level of body fat. BMI does not provide an in-depth analysis of body fat, nor does it involve any related health diagnosis or commentary. Instead, BMI is a basic guideline that can help individuals avoid living at an unhealthy weight. BMI is achieved by dividing a person’s weight in pounds by the square of their height in feet.

A person with a BMI under 18.5 is categorized as underweight and may be at risk for malnutrition. A healthy BMI range spans from 18.5 to 24.9, while a BMI of 25 or more qualifies as overweight. A BMI score of 30 or higher constitutes obesity. Again, BMI must be viewed as a useful tool, not an infallible law. A person with a height of 5 foot 9 inches is considered to have a healthy weight at 168 pounds and to be overweight at 169 pounds, but it is perfectly possible for an individual meeting the latter criteria to be healthier than someone who weighs just one pound less.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the United States population is not hovering on the line between a healthy and overweight BMI. Close to one-third of the country’s adult population meets the criteria for being overweight, while an additional 42.4 percent of Americans also qualify as obese, meaning roughly three out of four citizens live with an overweight or obese BMI.

Statistics are marginally better among American children, 35.4 percent of whom at the least qualify as overweight. But there are troubling numbers here as well: like adults, more children qualify as obese than overweight, and over 6 percent of American children from two to 19 years of age can be categorized as severely obese.

Age range is not the only information influencing overweight and obesity statistics in the US. Roughly one-half of all non-Hispanic Black adults in America live with obesity, compared to 41.4 percent of non-Hispanic White adults and just 16.1 percent of non-Hispanic Asian adults. Obesity is less prevalent among men and women with college degrees, and can also be influenced by socioeconomic factors.

Researchers and medical professionals have conducted extensive research regarding America’s weight crisis. There are several driving factors behind the nation’s rising levels of overweight and obesity, including an unhealthy diet rife with added salt and sugar. The American Heart Association reports that the average American consumes 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day. This is nearly twice and triple the amount of sugar men and women should consume daily, respectively, and does not account for naturally occurring sugar found in various foods.

In addition to poor eating habits, America is a relatively sedentary nation. Less than one-quarter of adults meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exercise guidelines. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that approximately 25 percent of American adults do not engage in any physical activity whatsoever.

The financial and physical cost of America’s weight issues are difficult to calculate. CDC reports suggest the economic cost is about $173 billion each year. Obesity and overweight combine for about 300,000 deaths annually, closely trailing tobacco use as the second leading cause of preventable death for Americans.