Imagine a nation where one-half of the citizens are obese. That nightmarish vision soon might be reality in the United States.
By 2030, nearly 50% of Americans could be obese -- and 1 in 4 could be more than 100 pounds overweight, or “severely obese” -- unless current trends are reversed, according to a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Severe obesity is expected to hit three groups particularly hard:
- Women: 27.6% could be severely obese within a decade
- NonHispanic black adults: 31.7%
- Low-income adults: 31.7%
No part of the nation is immune to the surge in obesity rates. By 2030, the prevalence of obesity will be higher than 50% in 29 states, and no state will have obesity rates below 35%, according to the study.
Why is obesity soaring?
Several factors are contributing to the epidemic of obesity, says Sarah Muntel, a registered dietitian and bariatric coordinator at Community Health Network in Indianapolis.
For starters, people are consuming more calories and more poor-quality foods than ever before.
"The lifestyle of fast food, supersized portions and sugary drinks play a big role," says Muntel, who was not connected to the study published in the journal.
In addition, people are less active than they once were, and often are stuck in sedentary jobs that cause them to sit more.
Other factors -- such as taking certain medications, eating for emotional reasons, or even simple genetics -- contribute to weight gain.
In some cases, illness -- such as Cushing’s disease or polycystic ovary syndrome -- can promote obesity.
"Some people are more likely to struggle with their weight than others," Muntel says. "It is really the mix of all of the above that drives obesity rates to increase."
Obesity health risks
As you pack on the pounds, the risks to your health increase dramatically. Health problems associated with obesity include:
- Heart disease
- Some types of cancer
- Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea
The toll of obesity can also lead to more subtle problems, such as body pain, mental illness and depression, and an overall lower quality of life, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fortunately, simply shedding a few pounds can make a big difference in dropping your risk of such illnesses.
"Some of best 'wins' of weight loss are when a patient no longer needs blood pressure medicine, or can decrease their insulin," Muntel says.
A dietitian's advice for how to prevent obesity
The best way to prevent obesity is to stop weight gain in its tracks soon after it begins, Muntel says.
"Monitoring weight over time is a good place to start," she says. "A 10-pound weight gain can lead to a 20-pound weight gain if you don't monitor."
In general, keeping a log of food choices, eliminating sugary drinks and "taking an extra lap around the neighborhood" can make a difference for most people, Muntel says.
However, she emphasizes that what works well for one person may not be best for another. "There is no magic cure," she says.
Instead, focus on making a few changes at a time and tracking to see what helps and what does not.
"You don't have to fix everything overnight," Muntel says. "It can be overwhelming, so choosing a few small changes and building would be a great plan."
For more tips on losing weight – and keeping it off – check out the CDC’s Healthy Weight webpage.