By Dr. Mercola
New data published in JAMA Internal Medicine paints a dire picture of health in the US based on the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity.1 In 2007, a research team at Johns Hopkins University predicted that if current trends in weight gain continued, 75 percent of US adults would be overweight by 2015.
Here we are in the year 2015, and researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) gathered between 2007 and 2012. The data, which is based on more than 15,000 adults, revealed the John Hopkins predictions were spot on.
Today, about 75 percent of US men and 67 percent of US women are either overweight or obese. This has risen significantly from figures gathered between 1988 and 1994, when "just" 63 percent of men and 55 percent of US women were overweight or obese.2
Fewer Than One-Third of Americans Are at a Healthy Weight
The NHANES data revealed that about 35 percent of men and 37 percent of women are obese, while another 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women are overweight.
This means less than one-third of US adults are at a healthy weight. Lin Yang, a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Medicine Net:3
"Obesity is not getting better. It's getting worse, and it's really scary. It's not looking pretty…
This generation of Americans is the first that will have a shorter life expectancy than the previous generation, and obesity is one of the biggest contributors to this shortened life expectancy because it is driving a lot of chronic health conditions."
The findings are based on body mass index (BMI), which divides a person's weight by the square of his height.
When you have your height and weight recorded at your doctor's office, for instance, it will give him or her an automatic calculation of your BMI, classifying you as underweight if your BMI is below 18.5, normal if it's 18.5-24.9, overweight if it's 25-29.9, and obese if it's 30 or over.
BMI is a flawed measurement tool, in part because it uses weight as a measure of risk, when it is actually a high percentage of body fat that increases your disease risk.
BMI also tells you nothing about where fat is located in your body, and the location of the fat, particularly if it's around your stomach (visceral fat), is more important than the absolute amount of fat when it comes to measuring certain health risks.
In 2012, researchers compared BMI measurements to body fat percentage (using a DEXA scan, which is a FAR more accurate method to assess body fat percentage) among 1,400 people.4
For women, about half of those who were not classified as obese according to BMI were considered obese according to body fat.
Among men, one-quarter of those not identified as obese by BMI were found to be obese by body-fat measures. In all, nearly 40 percent of participants whose BMI classified them as overweight were actually obese when their percentage of body fat was taken into account.
What this means is that using BMI as a measurement tool may actually be underestimating the obesity epidemic. As noted in PLOS One:5
"…BMI presents as an inaccurate obesity classification method that underestimates the epidemic and contributes to failed treatment."
Average US Woman Now Weighs as Much as a Man in 1960s
Recent data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) similarly shows that Americans have been packing on extra pounds since the '60s. The average US woman now weighs just over 166 pounds, which is what the average US man weighed in the 1960s. In 1960, the average woman weighted 140 pounds.
Men, meanwhile, have gained about 30 pounds over the last several decades, increasing in weight from 166 pounds in the 1960s to an average of over 195 pounds today.6
While some of the difference is due to changes in height – both men and women have grown about one inch since the '60s – this isn't enough to account for the entire weight gain, which amounts to an overall increase of nearly 19 percent in women and 18 percent in men since 1960.
Americans now represent the world's third-heaviest people, behind only Tonga and Micronesia, which are both Pacific Island countries.7 As reported by CBS Atlanta:8
"The average U.S. adult is 33 pounds heavier than the average Frenchman and 70 pounds heavier than the average Bangladeshi citizen. To compile a ton of total mass, it would require only 12.2 Americans in a room versus 20 average citizens of Bangladesh.
A 2005 BMC Public Health study revealed that the world's adult human beings make up 287 million tons of biomass, but if every country was as large as the U.S., Earth would be 58 million tons fatter."
What Is Driving Rising Rates of Overweight and Obesity?
Obesity, and its causes, are complex. Often, it is not simply the result of eating too many calories and not exercising enough.
While it is part of the equation, environmental and lifestyle factors appear to play a far more significant role in this trend. Part of the problem is that many people don't realize they're affected by these stealthy factors and therefore fail to address them. This includes:
- Overuse of antibiotics in food production and medicine
- Growth-enhancing drugs used in food animals
- Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides
- Artificial sweeteners
- Aggressive marketing of harmful junk food
Highly processed genetically modified (GM) foods are the primary culprit, as they're chockfull of ingredients that both individually and in combination contribute to metabolic dysfunction and hard-to-control weight gain.
The 300+ members of the pro-GMO Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) include chemical/pesticide (i.e. Monsanto), GM (genetically modified) seed, and processed food industries.
While they claim GM crops are "necessary" to feed a growing population, they rarely show their actual results of FATTENING the world.
They make no progress with starvation due to distribution issues, and instead look for profitable ways to get more people eating the GM diet staples of corn syrup, trans fats from soybean oil, and sugar, which together fuel the rising obesity rates around the globe.
The safety of the entire GM "food" production is a boldfaced lie when you look at these primary food crops sickening Americans:
- High fructose corn syrup—one of the primary sources of calories in the American diet—is made from GM corn (Bt corn), registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for producing its own internal pesticide
- Hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) known to cause heart and cardiovascular disease is made from GM soy that is resistant to pesticide. This allows it to soak up much more of it than non-GM soy
- Sugar beets are also genetically engineered, ensuring that even foods sweetened with "regular sugar" fall into a more toxic category, courtesy of elevated pesticide contamination
Corn syrup, trans fats, and sugar – along with heavily processed refined grains -- these ingredients are now foundational in the US diet, and there is virtually no doubt that they are primary contributors to Americans' failing health and rising rates of obesity.
What Are the Health Risks of Obesity?
According to a report by The McKinsey Global Institute, the global cost of obesity is now $2 trillion annually, which is nearly as much as the global cost of smoking ($2.1 trillion) and armed violence (including war and terrorism, which also has a global cost of $2.1 trillion).9
For comparison, alcoholism costs are $1.4 trillion annually, road accidents cost $700 billion, and unsafe sex costs $300 billion. What's more, if current trends continue, the McKinsey report estimates that nearly half of the world's adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030.
Along with excess body weight comes a wide range of other health problems. In the US, eight obesity-related diseases account for a staggering 75 percent of healthcare costs. These diseases include:
Type 2 diabetes Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) Hypertension Polycystic ovarian syndrome Lipid problems Cancer (especially breast, endometrial, colon, gallbladder, prostate, and kidney10) Heart disease Dementia
The four diseases in the left column are associated with metabolic syndrome, which is a common factor in obesity. However, several other diseases fall within this category as well, which are listed on the right. And many more could be added to that list. According to the Surgeon General, in addition to the diseases mentioned above, obesity increases your risk for asthma, sleep disorders (including sleep apnea), depression, pregnancy complications, and poor surgical outcomes.11
Last year, a systematic review and meta-analysis that included data from more than 61,000 people found that obese individuals were more likely to die sooner or have heart-related problems than people of normal weight – even if they were otherwise healthy. The researchers concluded:12
"Compared with metabolically healthy normal-weight individuals, obese persons are at increased risk for adverse long-term outcomes even in the absence of metabolic abnormalities, suggesting that there is no healthy pattern of increased weight."
'No Single Intervention' Will Solve the Obesity Epidemic
As reported by The McKinsey Global Institute, "existing evidence indicates that no single intervention is likely to have a significant overall impact."13 Instead, they recommended a "systemic, sustained portfolio of initiatives," which include such options as:
- Reducing default portion sizes
- Changing marketing practices
- Restructuring urban and education environments to facilitate physical activities
- Reformulating food products
- Workplace wellness
Rather than wait for the "perfect proof" of what works, the report urges experimenting with solutions immediately, especially when the interventions are low cost and low risk. The changes, according to their findings, should "rely less on conscious choices by individuals and more on changes to the environment and societal norms." This, they say, is important because education and personal responsibility are not sufficient on their own to reduce obesity.
This is a stance I can't completely agree with. Societal changes are indeed important, but so is personal choice and, absolutely, education -- spreading the truth about what really works to maintain a healthy body weight. Starchy, carb-rich, highly processed (and typically genetically modified) foods, along with being in continuous feast mode, are primary drivers of the rising obesity and overweight statistics. Wherever a highly processed food diet becomes the norm, obesity inevitably follows.
Are You Ready to Reach and Maintain Your Healthy Weight?
Most overweight Americans have some degree of insulin and leptin resistance. Generally, in order for you to significantly gain weight, you must first become leptin resistant. Leptin is a hormone that helps you regulate your appetite. When your leptin levels rise, it signals your body that you're full so you'll stop eating. However, as you become increasingly resistant to the effects of leptin, you end up eating more. Many people who are overweight also have an impairment in their body's ability to oxidize fat, which leads to a low-energy state.
Dr. Richard Johnson's research clearly shows that refined sugar (in particular fructose) is exceptionally effective at causing leptin resistance in animals, and it's very effective at blocking the burning of fat. If you are insulin or leptin resistant, as long as you keep eating fructose and grains you're programming your body to create and store fat...
This is one of the key reasons why, if you are overweight (which means you are also likely insulin or leptin resistant), it would be prudent for you to restrict your fructose consumption to about 15 grams of fructose per day from all sources. Not only will this help you to avoid additional weight gain, it will also help you to avoid further metabolic dysfunction.
You may find this fructose chart helpful in estimating how many grams of fructose you are consuming each day. Dietary sugar, especially fructose, is a significant "tripper of your fat switch," however, if you are serious about losing weight, you'll need a comprehensive plan that includes the following. This plan will help most people lose weight but, also, it will help you to gain metabolic health. So even if your weight is normal, you can follow this plan to ensure that you're metabolically healthy as well.
- Eliminate or strictly limit fructose in your diet, and follow the healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan.
- You can also use intermittent fasting strategically with this program to greatly boost your body's fat-burning potential. Intermittent fasting helps reset your body to use fat as its primary fuel, and mounting evidence confirms that when your body becomes adapted to burning FAT instead of sugar as its primary fuel, you dramatically reduce your risk of chronic disease. Exercising in a fasted state (such as first thing in the morning) will bring it up yet another notch.
A simple way to get started with intermittent fasting is to simply omit breakfast, making lunch the first meal of your day. Alternatively, stop eating earlier in the day so you have a longer natural fasting period from early evening until the morning.
- Engage in high-intensity Peak Fitness exercise to burn fat and increase muscle mass (a natural fat burner). Also, strive to sit less (much less, such as only three hours a day) and walk 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day in addition to your regular exercise program.
- Address the emotional component of eating. For this I highly recommend the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which helps eliminate your food cravings naturally.
How to Determine What Your Healthy Weight Is…
As mentioned earlier, BMI is a flawed measurement tool, so branding yourself as unhealthy or overweight (or vice versa) simply based on your BMI is not recommended. Your waist-to-hip ratio is a more reliable indicator of your future disease risk because a higher ratio suggests you have more visceral fat. Excess visceral fat—the fat that accumulates around your internal organs — is far more hazardous to your health than subcutaneous fat (the more noticeable fat found just under your skin) – a measure that BMI tells you nothing about.
The danger of visceral fat is related to the release of proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, affecting how your body breaks down sugars and fats. To determine your waist-to-hip ratio, get a tape measure and record your waist and hip circumference. Then divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference. For a more thorough demonstration, please review the video above.
Waist-to-Hip Ratio Men Women Ideal 0.8 0.7 Low Risk <0.95 <0.8 Moderate Risk 0.96-0.99 0.81 - 0.84 High Risk >1.0 >0.85
In addition, your fitness level is also a far better predictor of mortality than your BMI. One study found that people who rarely exercised had a 70 percent higher risk of premature death than those who exercised regularly, independent of their BMI.14 If you want a simple test to gauge your fitness level, try the abdominal plank test (for a demonstration of how to do a plank, see the video below). If you can hold an abdominal plank position for at least two minutes, you're off to a good start. If you cannot, you're likely lacking in core strength, which is important for overall movement stability and strength.