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Americans have set a new record for obesity, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of 2015 when the data was gathered, 30.4 percent of U.S. adults were obese according to their body mass indexes.
That’s up from 19.4 percent when the CDC started tracking obesity in 1997. The figure has risen steadily ever since.
For the report, researchers surveyed more than 8,000 Americans over age 19, asking them to divulge their weight and height. Then they calculated the participants’ BMIs and categorized people as “obese” if they had BMIs of 30 or higher.
It’s worth noting that BMI isn’t a perfect measure of health because it doesn’t differentiate between muscle mass and fat. But experts say it’s a good enough barometer for estimating the obesity rate in the population.
“We are not mistaking an epidemic of ‘totally awesome muscles’ for an epidemic of obesity,” says Men’s Health weight loss advisor David L. Katz, M.D.
In fact, since the findings are based on self-reported data, the actual obesity rate may be even higher, says William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., an obesity researcher at George Washington University.
Take a look at the data to see how Americans have ballooned since the 90s.
Except for 2003, obesity rates have steadily increased every single year.
The survey also finds that people age 40 to 59 are most likely to be obese. Men in this age group have higher rates of obesity compared to women.
Why Are More Americans Becoming Obese?
Dr. Katz says cultural forces are to blame: The food industry markets pastries and sugary cereals as suitable breakfasts and news organizations spread confusing messages about diet and weight loss.
Dr. Dietz, who previously served as the director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the CDC, thinks lack of self-awareness may play a role. Obesity is becoming the norm, and people are accepting it as such, he says.
“There are many people who think they don’t need to lose weight, when they actually do,” he says.
Although it may be common, obesity is, in fact, dangerous. It raises your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, stroke, arthritis, and certain cancers, according to the CDC.
How to Solve the Obesity Epidemic
The best way to tell if your weight has become unhealthy is to measure your waist at its largest point, says Dr. Katz. This method won’t confuse muscle mass with fat.
If you top 100cm, that’s a sign of trouble, he says.
Even if you’re currently at a healthy weight, the odds are stacked against you. People tend to gain 450g to 900g a year from age 20 to 39, new research from Brown University finds.
Small steps can reverse that trend, though: One study found that people who made doable changes to their daily routines, like walking an extra mile or cutting 420kj from their diet, 540g and kept the weight off for two years.
And keeping your own weight down may be the key to solving the obesity crisis for future generations: There’s a known link between parental and childhood obesity, says Dr. Dietz.
“Preventing obesity in that 20- to 39-year-old age group may have promise for reducing the prevalence of obesity in kids, too,” says Dr. Dietz.