Archived Story

Jack Strayer: What’s behind America’s big, fat problem?

Published 8:36pm Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A day does not go by without another newspaper or magazine article warning us about the growing problem of obesity.  But this big fat problem reached its saturation point in the Aug. 8 issue of Time magazine.
Time reported: (There were) 12 states in which 30 percent or more of adults were obese in 2010, up from nine states reporting that rate in 2009. In all 50 states, at least 20 percent of adults are obese, meaning the country fails to meet the national Healthy People 2010 goal of lowering obesity to less than 15 percent of all adults.
Let’s take a closer look at these claims. On the night of June 16, 1998, I went to bed as a slightly overweight American male and awoke the following morning to find myself officially “obese” by federal mandate. What happened to me on the morning of June 17, 1998 also happened to 25 million other Americans: the new federal government definition of “obese” was changed from a base 35 body mass index (BMI) to a 30 by the Center for Disease Control, making 25 million of us suddenly “obese.” There appears to be no rationale for the change, other than an increase in heart disease back in the late 1990s.
Figuring out your BMI is confusing. To determine your BMI, first multiply your weight by 703. Then divide that number by your height in inches. Then divide that number by your height in inches again. The result is your BMI. No one seems to be able to determine where the factor of 703 came from, except that it is the area code for the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. Go figure…
It is no wonder that the Center for Disease Control stated recently that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of obese Americans in the past 20 years. Perhaps the CDC has forgotten that they changed the definition of obese back in 1998, unnaturally creating a dramatic increase in the number of obese Americans today.
None of this is supposed to be amusing. What isn’t funny is the financial and human cost of obesity. It remains one of the main causes of diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure and increased heart disease  These are very expensive health conditions to treat and maintain, and most people who are morbidly obese find themselves unemployable and on Medicaid, so it is also a problem for taxpayers.
An article by Dr. David Ludwig and Lindsey Murtagh of the Harvard School of Public Health that ran in the July 13, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that state intervention into families with obese children might be the solution. Removing obese children from their parents’ care would allow experts to help the children reduce and control their weight through proper nutrition and exercise and return them to their families when they have become healthy children.
“Despite the discomfort posed by state intervention, it may sometimes be necessary to protect a child,” Murtagh suggests, sounding a lot like a Charles Dickens’ character.
But there is more surprising news in the JAMA article. Bioethicist Art Caplan from the University of Pennsylvania warns that too much blame is placed upon parents. “Obese children are victims of advertising, marketing, peer pressure and bullying … things a parent can’t control,” Caplan insists.
Juvenile obesity is a very serious problem facing families today. Proper education may be a better solution than federal government intervention. Either that or switch back to the old way of measuring and defining BMI. I can guarantee the obesity rate would drop immediately and the CDC would save a lot of families a lot of grief and anxiety.

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