Obesity in America: A Growing Public Health Concern


While obesity lacks the media appeal of SARS or some of the other increasingly common emerging diseases, it is second only to smoking as a public health problem. Obesity causes 300,000 preventable deaths in America each year (smoking causes 400,000), and it costs $117 billion in extra health care costs. However, smoking is decreasing, and obesity is increasing. The reasons why Americans are gaining weight are easy to understand, if not to address: people are doing less physical activity (while working harder), and cheap food is abundant.

The expansion of our collective waistline is not a result of moral failure, in fact it is a result of our peculiar obsession with productivity and efficiency. However, there is hope. Most people are gaining one or two pounds a year, which translates to 50 to 100 extra calories a day. Cutting out the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar a day, or walking off 100 calories, would at least stop the upward creep in weight for most people. Incorporating this approach into one's life would avoid the demoralization of working hard to lose weight, only to watch it come back when the diet is over.

We spoke with Dr. James Hill about his work to educate people on how to cope with excess weight.

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