More than a billion people around the world are overweight and 400 million are obese according to the World Health Organization. Two thirds of American adults are now overweight or obese. U.S. health officials are so alarmed that they called an unprecedented conference on obesity in America.
Jo Chiti has battled weight for most of her life. "When you're heavy as a woman, it's depressing. It affects you emotionally," she said.
Chiti stopped eating high fat foods, began exercising...and lost 18 kilograms. New research shows that obesity costs the United States $147 billion a year, or $1,400 a year more, for an obese person than for someone of normal weight.
Obesity costs Americans more
That's what a study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says. What's driving those costs are prescription drugs for obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.
Health economist Eric Finkelstein is the study's lead author. "The only way to show real savings in health expenditures in the future is through efforts to reduce the prevalence of obesity and related health conditions," he said.
Finkelstein says what's alarming is not just the number of Americans who have tipped their scales, but the pace at which they're doing it. Finkelstein says obesity affects all racial and ethnic groups, the rich and poor, and most dramatically, America's children.
One in every five children is obese or overweight.
With food everywhere designed to tempt the tastebuds, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC says weight gain is hard to prevent. "If you go with the flow [fit in with others] in America today, you will end up overweight or obese," he asserts. "This is not a result of a change in our genes. What has changed is our environment."
Dr. Frieden says Americans consume 250 more calories per day than they did 20 years ago. He says the rising obesity rate is the single greatest contributor to a national epidemic of diabetes.
Reversing obesity requires behavior modifications
To help combat the obesity crisis, public health experts discussed the need to change people's behavior by promoting exercise and good nutrition.
Federal stimulus money would go to local communities to encourage grocery stores to sell more fresh produce in poorer neighborhoods and to get more fruits and vegetables into school lunches.
Finkelstein says because high-calorie, low-nutrient foods cost less than fruits and vegetables, it is harder to stay on a healthy diet, and as people use more technology, they tend to be more sedentary.
As for Jo Chiti, she is excited about the changes she has made. "It feels great. I feel like a different person," she said.
If only public health officials could bottle that enthusiasm and spoon feed it to others...