Obesity in America 2021

By Alex Hoffmann on October, 6 2021
Lifestyle
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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

Obesity in America 2021

 

Over the past several decades the obesity rate in America has increased. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that obesity around the world has nearly tripled since 1975. According to a WHO report from 2016, there were 1.9 billion overweight or obese adults (aged 18+) worldwide and 340 million overweight or obese children (ages 5-18). In 2020, WHO reported 39 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese.

The obesity epidemic is a well-known and well-documented health crisis. Excess weight is a risk factor that can lead to health issues including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, stroke, and premature death. More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese and at risk. What can personal trainers do to help? Educate yourself and your clients.

 

What causes obesity and overweight?

There are many factors that can cause obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that obesity is a complex disease, influenced by multiple factors. According to the CDC, genetics, behaviors, education and skills, food marketing and promotion, and community and social factors may contribute to an individual's health status. The following are examples of specific risk factors for overweight and obesity:

  • Food intake and diet
  • Access to safe places for physical activity
  • Level of activity
  • Family prevalence of overweight
  • Access to health care
  • Health conditions and medications
  • Access to healthy food
  • Knowledge of healthy food choices
  • Stress
  • Emotional factors
  • Poor sleep

 

Current Rates of Obesity in Adults

Adult obesity rates in the US vary based on age group. The highest obesity rate in adults is for the group aged 40 to 59, followed by adults over 60, and lastly 20- to 39-year-olds.

The adult obesity rate also varies by race. The CDC reported the following:

  • Non-Hispanic black adults had the highest prevalence of obesity at about 38%.
  • Around 33% of Hispanic adults are obese.
  • Close to 29% of non-Hispanic white adults are obese.
  • Fewer than 20% of Asian American adults are considered obese.

 

What is a healthy weight for adults?

There is no clear answer to what is a healthy weight for men or what is a healthy weight for women. Why? Because just like obesity, healthy weight is affected by multiple factors. Age, muscle mass, fat density, and growth curve (for children) influence body weight and must be taken into account when deciding what is a healthy weight.

One common measure to determine healthy body weight is the Body Mass Index or BMI. A note of caution: this method is inaccurate for individuals with higher muscle mass but, given currents stats, is reliable for most of the population. To find a client's BMI, use this equation:

[weight (lbs) / (height (in) x height (in))] x 703 

Let's calculate BMI for a client who weighs 145 pounds and stands 56 inches tall.

[145 / (56 x 56)] x 703

[145 / 3136] x 703

[0.04623] x 703

BMI = 32.5

There are also online calculators and smartphone apps that make finding BMI fast and simple. Once BMI has been calculated, compare the results to this adult BMI chart to determine weight status.

BMI Rating

Under 18.5

18.5 - 24.9

25 - 29.9

30 and above

Underweight

Healthy weight

Overweight

Obese

According to the chart, our sample client is in the obese category.

 

Current Rates of Obesity in Children

A 2015 study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care paints a regretful picture of the consequences of childhood obesity. The study says,

Childhood obesity can profoundly affect children's physical health, social, and emotional well-being, and self esteem. It is also associated with poor academic performance and a lower quality of life experienced by the child. Many co-morbid conditions like metabolic, cardiovascular, orthopedic, neurological, hepatic, pulmonary, and renal disorders are also seen in association with childhood obesity.

Of course, childhood obesity prevalence like adult obesity, is also affected by multiple factors. Genetics and behaviors play a role, but parents and caregivers' influence on children is also a major factor in childhood obesity. Preventing weight gain and promoting a healthy weight are vital as children grow. Most studies find that an obese child will grow up to be an obese adult.

 

What is a healthy weight for kids?

As previously mentioned, children's weight status is based on a growth curve. For kids and teens, BMI is age- and sex-specific and is often referred to as BMI-for-age. To find a client's BMI-for-age, use the following equation:

[weight (lbs) x 703 / (height (in) x height (in))]

Let's calculate BMI for a 15-year-old male who weighs 95 pounds and stands 53 inches tall.

[95 x 703 / (53 x 53)]

[66785 / 2809]

BMI = 23.77

This number is then found on the CDC data table of BMI-for-age Chart. Our sample client falls in the 85th percentile and therefore is in the healthy range. BMI data for children should be considered in the context of the growth curve and other factors such as lean body mass.

 

Does Obesity Cause Other Diseases?

Overweight and obesity increase the risk for chronic disease. Common conditions linked to unhealthy weight include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood glucose levels
  • High triglycerides
  • Low HDL
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Some cancers

Obesity-related medical care costs the US health care system around $147 billion per year. Employees with obesity-related illnesses reduce workforce productivity and cost US companies anywhere from $3.4 billion to $6.4 billion annually. The burden of the obesity epidemic is heavy on all accounts.

 

Treatment for Overweight and Obesity

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases suggests the following treatments for overweight and obesity:

  • Healthy eating plan
  • Regular physical activity
  • Weight-management programs
  • Weight-loss medicines
  • Weight-loss devices
  • Bariatric surgery
  • Special diets
  • Improved habits

Given that genetics play a small role in overall health, only about 25%, obesity is often referred to as a lifestyle-related disease. That said, behavior change is one of the most effective, albeit difficult, ways to reverse obesity and maintain good overall health.

Clients must be emotionally, mentally, and financially capable of making behavior changes. All too often a client suffering from overweight was forced to see a doctor or get on a diet or join an exercise program without being ready to do so. As a result, they fail to lose weight or gain back whatever they lost plus some.

When planning a weight loss program for a client, it is key that they understand the health risks associated with excess weight and are prepared to make necessary changes.

A sound weight loss plan should include regular physical activity, healthy food choices, behavior modification, and data tracking.

 

Regular Physical Activity for Weightloss

Small adjustments in routine can lead to major improvements in health. For example, adding a 10-minute walk to a lunchtime routine can add up to nearly an hour of physical activity each week. Encouraging clients to take up a hobby such as gardening or woodworking can also increase physical activity and dramatically improve their quality of life.

Resistance training is also key to losing weight and maintaining a healthy body composition. Start slowly by giving clients simple exercises they can do at their desk, before they shower, or while they're on their lunchtime walk.

 

Educating Clients on Healthy Food Choices

Diet is most often the hardest obstacle to overcome (the subject for another article, to be sure). The best way to approach diet is through small gradual shifts. For example, a client might benefit from learning about healthier alternatives to their favorite foods. You might then work with them to reduce portion sizes or teach them how to listen to their body to decide when to eat. Once they see health improvements, they may decide to follow a meal plan. 

Making gradual, small changes helps clients develop habits over time, not overnight, which is much more sustainable than an all-or-nothing approach.

 

Tracking Data for Weight Loss Success

Finally, because weight loss is a gradual process, tracking health and fitness measures is vital to keeping clients motivated and dedicated to improving their health. Track as many of the following metrics as possible to get a better picture of a client's overall health and progress in the weight loss program:

  • BMI
  • Lean body mass
  • Sleep patterns
  • Dietary intake
  • Physical activity levels
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Cardiovascular endurance
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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

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