While hard to believe, the most recent statistics1 indicate Americans just keep getting fatter. As of 2015, nearly 40 percent of adults, over 18 percent of teens and nearly 14 percent of young children were obese, not just overweight. Severe obesity has also increased, now affecting nearly 8 percent of adults; a 2.3 percent increase since 2007/2008. As reported by the authors:
"Among adults aged 20 years and older, obesity was defined as a body mass index (BMI …) of 30 or more and severe obesity was defined as a BMI of 40 or more … Among youth, obesity prevalence was 16.8 percent in 2007-2008 and 18.5 percent in 2015-2016 … Obesity prevalence among children aged 2 to 5 years showed a quadratic trend, decreasing from 10.1 percent in 2007-2008 to 8.4 percent in 2011-2012 and then increasing to 13.9 percent in 2015-2016 …"
Public Health Messaging Is Not Working
According to The New York Times,2 public health experts have expressed alarm by the rise in obesity despite education efforts. The NYT also added:
"The latest data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey comes at a time when the food industry is pushing back against stronger public health measures aimed at combating obesity. In recent NAFTA negotiations, the Trump administration has proposed rules favored by major food companies that would limit the ability of the United States, Mexico and Canada to require prominent labels on packaged foods warning about the health risks of foods high in sugar and fat."
Indeed, U.K. pediatricians are now warning that the nation's trade deal with the U.S. "could lead to even higher rates of obesity through the import of American foods high in fat and sugar,"3 and that America's hostile stance toward countries with stricter food rules4 to support healthier eating habits threatens the U.K.'s anti-obesity efforts. Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health told The Guardian:5
"We're concerned by the evidence of U.S. hostility in trade talks toward countries that want to set their own domestic agenda on reducing sugar intake, particularly the push [from the U.S.] to keep traffic light labeling voluntary. We can't allow trade talks to undermine efforts to tackle childhood obesity. Children's health outcomes are much worse in the U.S. than in many other comparable countries, and we don't want to import these along with the sugar."
Processed Food Is a Major Driver of Obesity
The survey data didn't reveal the reasons for the continued weight gain in the U.S., but there can be little doubt that processed food consumption continues to be part of the equation. According to Euromonitor,6,7 sales of fast food in the U.S. grew by nearly 23 percent between 2012 to 2017, and packaged food sales rose 8.8 percent.
The increase in processed food sales may well be a major part of the obesity epidemic, as one of the easiest ways to curb obesity is simply to eat real food. A real food diet will also help protect against chronic diseases such as cancer. ScienceAlert8 recently discussed the findings of an interesting study9 showing just how quickly a fast food diet can trash your health.
Researchers simply asked 20 Americans and 20 indigenous South Africans to switch diets, and then measured biomarkers to evaluate the biochemical changes. Remarkably, within two weeks of eating primarily burgers and french fries, the South Africans showed changes in biomarkers that are indicative of colon cancer. The Americans, on the other hand, showed a significant reduction in biomarkers of cancer risk.
What this suggests is that diet alone may be a significant contributing factor to colon cancer, and helps explain why Americans have a 13 times higher rate of this type of cancer compared to people living in rural South Africa. Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's now classic documentary "Super Size Me" also vividly demonstrated the consequences of eating a fast food diet.
After just four weeks, Spurlock's health had deteriorated to the point that his physician warned him he was putting his life in serious jeopardy if he continued the experiment as dramatic weight gain was not the only rapidly emerging side effect. Unfortunately, the food and beverage industries often trick people into making really unhealthy choices. The "diet" food and beverage niche is a perfect example.