Obesity still an issue for U.S., despite steady numbers

By Ivana Susic

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that obesity rates in the U.S. have stabilized in the past five years. Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the paper stated the rate has evened at nearly 34 percent. If the number of overweight people is added into this figure, that number jumps to almost 57 percent.

While this percentage includes all age groups, college students are by no means underrepresented. According to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, one of the most rapidly increasing rates of obesity is among 18 to 29-year-olds. An estimated 35 percent of all college students are classified as overweight or obese.

I used to think the use of the word “epidemic” for obesity was unmerited. When I think of epidemics, I think of the swine flu, Ebola or the bubonic plague—diseases that have killed millions of people. Then it hit me: obesity is killing people too. While it may not be a formal disease, it causes plenty of deaths.

Obesity is determined by Body Mass Index. An individual’s BMI is their measured weight in relation to height. Using a specific formula, the BMI is calculated and the number determines whether the person can be considered healthy, overweight or obese. A number of 30 or more is considered obese.

In 1991, no state’s obesity rate was above 20 percent. Now, according to a study done by the CDC, by the end of 2008, Colorado was the only state with a rate under 20 percent, at 18.5 percent. The state has maintained this status since 1990, when obesity rates first began to skyrocket. Mississippi leads the pack at just under 33 percent.

According to NationMaster.com, a Web site that compiles data from outside credible sources, Mexico has the second highest obesity rate in the world. Even with just above 24 percent, this is still less than 39 of our states.

There is continued legislation to improve the health standards for the U.S. as a whole. Smaller portion sizes in restaurants are encouraged and more fast food restaurants now place their nutrition facts on the wrappers. All school levels, from elementary to college, are slowly switching to healthier meal alternatives. But this isn’t enough. There need to be more accessible, affordable options. We do not need to stabilize, but rather decrease the number of Americans jeopardizing their health.

College students often feel that their age and fast metabolism allow more freedom to eat unhealthy, but this is not the case. Even if at first there is no apparent weight gain, this doesn’t signify bodily health. By early adulthood, bad eating habits have solidified. If healthier life habits aren’t implemented by the time students graduate college, these bad habits will stick. If overall lifestyle habits do not improve, we will be unhealthier than all previous generations.

We can only blame our parents, school lunches and busy lifestyles so much. A healthy lifestyle is a task that must be undertaken by every individual student. Eat healthier, exercise more. This doesn’t mean switching to a raw food diet and running 10 miles a day. The little things add up; quit drinking soda or limit soda intake to one or two cans a week. Instead of taking the escalator at the Harrison Red Line, take the stairs. Go to a water fountain on the opposite end of the floor. Try to find a healthier comfort food; instead of buying the cheapest milk chocolate bar, look for a dark chocolate alternative.

Choosing the quickest, most inexpensive food options may seem easier now, but long-term consequences must be considered. The health care cost for obesity-related diseases continues to rise. The insulin necessary for diabetes or the prescriptions for high blood pressure and cholesterol can cost hundreds of dollars a month. Seventy percent of deaths in this country are caused by diseases linked to obesity. We need to stop killing ourselves with food and laziness and take responsibility for what we do to our bodies.