Is Our Ideal Weight Getting Fatter, Too?

overweight african american man

( — The newest research is in, and Americans are, on average, 20 pounds heavier than they were 20 years ago. And it also seems that our stated ideal weight is now heavier than it used to be. So, as Americans get fatter, we have also lowered the bar on what we would like to weigh, following the trend towards higher weights and an increase in illnesses related to weight. And if we do indeed weigh more, eat less healthy food, and suffer from more chronic diseases than ever before, is it any wonder that the cost of health care also continues to rise?

Diabetes and Weight

It’s very clear that abdominal fat and overall weight are indicative of the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, and abdominal fat is common among a large number of Americans.

According to some suggestions, a good way to determine if you are at risk of diabetes is to do the following:

  • Take your height in inches, dividing that number in half
  • If the size of your waist is more than that number, you are at risk of developing diabetes, among other complications of obesity

What Has Changed?

If you want to examine what has changed in the last 20 years, there are many places to look.

First, the number of Americans engaged in a sedentary lifestyle has risen as we have become more reliant on cars. Americans are known to drive very short distances in order to run an errand, even if the destination is essentially within reasonable walking distance. And as American neighborhoods and cities become less friendly to pedestrians and bicycles, it becomes less possible to safely run those errands without a car. And without safe places to walk or exercise, Americans thus become fatter.

Next, we have to look at food. Processed foods and fast foods have become increasingly popular, and the number of calories consumed by Americans—both young and old—has apparently risen as well. Unfortunately, processed foods generally contain more fat, more calories, and more sugar, thus the calories we consume are not only elevated in number, they are also deteriorating in terms of quality. Compared to several decades ago, different forms of sugar (such as high-fructose corn syrup) has found its way into a wide variety of foods, from salad dressings to crackers, soy milk and ketchup. Thus, many foods are packed with extra calories and sugars that offer no nutritional.

In many lower-income neighborhoods, there are often no outlets for purchasing healthy, fresh foods, with convenience stores and fast food restaurants being some of the only choices available to those without transportation or the ability to search out better options for food purchases. These areas devoid of quality options for the purchasing of nutrient-dense foods are often called “food deserts”, and they are more common than you might imagine.

Even in our schools, sodas and candy and foods of little nutritional value are pawned off as “nutrition”, and as a result our children get fatter as well. We also cannot avoid the fact that “physical education” has been cut in many school districts, with schoolchildren spending more time in their seats and less time on their feet.

What Can We Do?

There are a number of actions that we can take to combat the spread of diabetes, obesity and other illnesses related to the excess weight that we are carrying around.

Decrease and improve intake: We can make a concerted effort to decrease our overall caloric intake, as well as the amount of excess sugar that we eat and drink. Cutting back on fast foods and desserts and other sources of “empty calories” is a great place to start. Read the labels on food and avoid high-calorie ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup. We can also increase our intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and other low-calorie nutritious foods.

Increase exercise: Find small and big ways to increase your level of physical activity. Walk or bike to the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Print your documents at the printer furthest from your desk. Keep moving!

Advocate: As a citizen, you have the right to advocate on behalf of schoolchildren for increased physical education, more nutritious lunches, and less junk food in schools. You can lobby for bike paths and walking paths in your town, and for sidewalks on roads that are unsafe for pedestrians. You can also speak with local, state and national lawmakers who can improve the labeling of unhealthy foods and improve public health education regarding the risks of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

The Future is Unwritten

Just because Americans are 20 pounds heavier than they were 20 years ago, that doesn’t mean that they need be 20 pounds heavier still after the next two decades have elapsed. There are many healthy trends underway around the country at this time, and many people are waking up to the fact that things have to change.

Our children are, in many ways, our greatest asset and our greatest barometer, and as they become increasingly prone to illnesses that were mostly adult diseases in the past (obesity, diabetes and heart disease), it should be a wake-up call that it’s time for us to take action, individually and collectively.