The biggest problem we face in America today is not terrorism, it is obesity. This is according to Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in America. And it seems much of this problem is happening in a slow and creeping way, through gradual young and middle-aged adult weight gain, over very long periods of time.
On the average, a typical American adult gains at least two pounds per year over his or her lifetime. That probably means that approximately 100 extra calories are being consumed each day, according to Dr. James Hill of the University of Colorado’s nutrition center. If you simply burn off those 100 extra calories, or don’t consume them to begin with, you will then not gain that yearly extra weight.
Dr. Gerberding says that fixing the problem will involve changing most Americans’ daily social norms. This will have to start in our early childhood, she says. People will have to begin performing more physical activity and eating less every day. And Dr. Hill has examined government figures showing that about 40 million adults are currently obese. He has also noted that Americans are steadily gaining more weight than usual in recent years. But what can be done about this socially and personally significant health problem?
“The future is not hopeful unless we act now,” Dr. Hill says. He estimates that if current trends continue, the obesity rate for American adults in 2008 will be 39%, which compares unfavorably with 31% in the year 2000.
Middle age shows a great increase in the amount of weight gained. There is a doubling of body fat in this time period in both men and women living in the developed countries. Such weight gain is strongly associated with increased morbidity and mortality. But there is ample evidence to conclude that moderate physical activity combined with a steady and healthy diet slows down or stops middle-aged adult weight gain.
Young adults are also at a high risk for weight gain. In America, for adults ages 25-74, the major weight gain was shown to be highest between ages 25-34. This was found by recent US government studies. And in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study, even though trends were constant across ten years of follow-up studies, age-related weight gain was larger in the early to mid-20s than it was for older age groups.
It may not be wisest to wait until middle age, even though that may be when obesity becomes a more significant health threat, to lose weight. Irreversible health damage from weight being above optimal levels may occur prior to the beginning of a health-related diet and exercise program. But modest weight loss can reduce cardiovascular risk factors, and in high-risk individuals, it also prevents the development of diabetes and hypertension.
The American College of Preventative Medicine endorses the guidelines of the National Institutes of Health when it comes to advising obese and overweight patients on how to go about both losing excess weight and keeping it off. They encourage moderate physical activity for 30 to 45 minutes for at least 3 to 5 days per week for clinically obese or overweight persons, whenever such a program is not contraindicated by any current health problems. They also advise counseling regarding an energy-reduced or low-calorie diet of 800 to 1500 calories per day for an obese or overweight adult until optimal weight is attained. Then it is suggested that the patient should remain on a healthy, normal diet that is not higher in calories than the amount burned by ordinary activities and exercise each day.
It is felt by many experts that simply avoiding excess weight gain during the early adult years may be very important. It may ensure the prevention of adverse health reactions and establish an early foundation for the maintenance of lifelong healthy habits in later adulthood. It is also felt that interventions such as simple changes in diet and the maintenance of a regular exercise program will help parents establish lifelong role models for their children. This would greatly help to prevent America’s steady increase in obesity over the oncoming decade, and its accompanying morbidity and mortality over the next several generations of aging adult Americans.