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The Rising Costs of Obesity: How Unhealthy Weight Gain Impacts Your Health and Your Wallet

Obesity, a disorder characterized by unhealthy amounts of body fat that contribute to other health complications, has become a huge public health crisis that impacts more than 100 million adults and children living in America. According to the results from the 2017–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey an estimated 42.5% of American adults aged 20 and over have obesity, and 31.1% are overweight, potentially at risk for becoming obese. These statistics are alarming due to the fact that unhealthy weight gain often comes with a slew of physical and mental health issues. In addition, the statistics also show that Americans have been struggling with maintaining a healthy weight for years. This long history with weight gain has led to a societal strain on American health, well-being, and finances.

America’s History with Obesity: How Did We Get Here?

Researchers started noticing an overall increase in weight for the average American during the late 1980s. This trend in weight gain continued, resulting in a present day obesity epidemic. This epidemic was caused by several factors, including:

  • Genetic Factors: the amount of body fat a person stores, where it's distributed and how efficiently their body metabolizes food into energy.

  • Medical Conditions: Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing's syndrome, arthritis and other diseases that can lead to decreased activity. Certain medications – some antidepressants, anti-seizure, diabetes, antipsychotic medications, steroids and beta blockers – can also cause weight gain.

  • Social and Economic Factors: Not having a safe space to exercise, not having enough money to afford healthier foods, food deserts where grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables are not available, and lack of transportation to access healthy food options can limit individuals' ability to make healthy choices that promote a healthy weight.

  • Lifestyle and Behavioral Factors: According to the CDC, one out of five Americans are inactive to a point that is considered detrimental to their health. Combine the high amount of inactivity with the average American consuming 3,600 calories per day (largely from sugary soft drinks and fast food) and you have the ideal environment for unhealthy weight gain.

Although many of these factors are outside of our control, the largest determining factor of weight gain is still under our power: inactivity and eating too many calories than what you burn. This type of weight gain caused by overeating and a sedentary lifestyle can have a profound impact on your health and wallet.

The Emotional, Physical, and Financial Impacts of Obesity

Obesity is measured by calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI is an average measure of body fat based on height and weight. The key thing to remember with BMI is that it is an average measurement. Even with a higher than “normal” BMI, you may not be considered obese or at risk for obesity, depending on other lifestyle/genetic factors. This is why it’s important to discuss your weight, family health history, and other health concerns with your doctor. Do not calculate your BMI and automatically assume that what it says is correct! An individual with a higher than normal BMI, but with healthy lifestyle habits such as: Regular exercise, healthy eating, and hydration habits would not be considered obese or at risk for obesity. However, with a higher than normal BMI and unhealthy lifestyle habits … that would cause some red flags. This is because unhealthy weight gain is linked to a slew of health problems, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Hyperlipidemia

  • High blood pressure

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Cancer

  • Sleep apnea

  • Osteoarthritis

In addition, there are some emotional wellness concerns with obesity, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Isolation

  • Low self-esteem

  • Eating disorders such as binge eating disorder

  • Body dysmorphia, or excessive rumination about one’s body

These physical and emotional health concerns all come with high price tags for the individual struggling with obesity. According to the George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services, the estimated annual average cost of obesity related medical treatments in America ranges from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion. Not to mention the ridiculous cost of diet supplements and programs that appear to be doomed for failure. Despite the obesity epidemic, the American diet industry’s gross annual income is about $60 billion per year. According to a Cleveland Clinic survey, “Eighty-four percent of Americans say they have tried at least one weight-loss method in the past. About one-third (30 percent) say they typically stick with it between one week and one month.”

If obesity statistics are only predicted to rise and the diet industry is failing, what can you realistically do if you’re struggling with obesity?

Decreasing Your Risk For Obesity Related Health and Wellness Issues

First and foremost, it’s important to start educating yourself about not only obesity, but your lifestyle choices as well. For many of us, it’s easy to go through life on auto-pilot. At the end of the day you might not even think twice about important factors such as:

  • What types of foods and drinks you consumed

  • How active you were

  • What your stress levels were like, and;

  • Emotional triggers that may have resulted in binge eating

All of these factors play a role in beating obesity. It is not enough to decrease calorie intake and try to exercise more. It’s crucial that you understand how and why you got to where you are now. Only then can you start developing healthier habits around food, physical activity, emotional coping/resiliency, and mindfulness. You’re certainly not going to get all of that insight from a diet pill, and the answers are not going to appear overnight. Neither, unfortunately, will the results. Beating obesity is a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other journey. You must take it one day at a time. In addition, it’s highly recommended that you seek out help from your doctor and/or mental healthcare professional. They can be a crucial part of your healthy, sustainable weight loss journey. Sustainability is the most important factor for your success. If you can’t keep doing it for the long-term, or it isn't healthy (for example, cleansing, 2 hour workouts, etc.), don’t start it now.

Final Thoughts

Despite the staggering obesity statistics, it is possible to beat obesity and live life at a healthy, comfortable weight for your body. In order to do so, it’s important to steer clear from potential pitfalls that the American diet industry promotes and find a flexible, but long-term health and wellness plan that you can commit to. This plan needs to be realistic for your genetics, current medical issues, and other lifestyle factors. Your doctor can help you decide what your health and wellness plan should look like. In addition, educating yourself as much as possible on obesity and your own habits is essential. Finally, having a support system helps tremendously. With your doctor’s permission, our Fitness Professionals at St. Andrew’s Family Fitness Plus would love to meet with you for your free health and wellness consultation. We will support you by adding to your current health and wellness plan. To get started, simply fill out this online questionnaire. A member from our Fitness Department will contact you shortly!

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