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More Bad News About The Obesity Epidemic In America

A report released recently by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health issued some grim warnings about the current and future state of the U.S.’s obesity epidemic.

Bluntly titled “F is for fat: How obesity threatens America’s future 2011,” the report found that obesity rates rose in 16 states since 2010 and that more than 30% of people are obese in 12 states, compared with one state just four years ago. The South is still the worst-faring region—nine out of 10 states with the highest obesity rates are located there.

The report compared today’s data with data from 20 years ago, when no state’s obesity rate exceeded 15%. Now, only one state—Colorado—has a rate below 20%. The report also points out that despite the increased attention paid to obesity by government (not to mention the media), no states posted a decrease in rates over the past year. Diabetes and hypertension rates have also risen sharply over the past two decades, the report said.

Recommendations to address the problem include preserving and in some cases restoring federal funding for obesity prevention and implementing legislation to improve nutrition in schools, among others.

Meanwhile, two researchers are making headlines for proposing a more extreme solution: removing dangerously obese children from their parents’ custody. In the most recent Journal of the American Medical Association, Lindsey Murtagh, JD, MPH, and David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital in Boston, respectively, wrote that state intervention, including such options as counseling and financial assistance, could be the “only realistic way” to help children with life-threatening obesity. But in cases where support services aren’t enough, they wrote, foster care and bariatric surgery may be the only remaining options. Although the former can be painful for the child and his or her family, it doesn’t carry the physical risks of bariatric surgery. “Family reunification can occur when conditions warrant, whereas the most common bariatric procedure. . . is generally irreversible,” they said.

The writers make clear that such a step should be considered only in the most severe cases—but that they suggest it at all seems to be yet another indication of just how bad the problem is, and how much worse things could get.

An article in ACP Internist’s July/August issue discusses tips on talking to patients about obesity.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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3 Responses to “More Bad News About The Obesity Epidemic In America”

  1. Jennifer Arzola says:

    Wow! Taking obese kids from their parents seems like a giant leap, but it does cause me to wonder what steps should be taken to change their lives. I am not sure if parents realize what a problem obesity is. I am not sure that Americans are ready to make the changes needed.

    Thanks for giving me a lot to think about.

  2. Ben says:

    I think parents are aware of what a problem obesity is, but it does seem like many parents believe their own child’s weight problems to be “a phase” or “baby fat” when, in fact, the child is setting a life-long precedent. Except in extraordinary circumstances we shouldn’t be taking peoples’ children away from them, but might there be a “softer” mechanism for encouraging parents to take action? States could require Parent-Teacher meetings to discuss intervention on weight-issues, similar to the system most schools already have for academic issues? Perhaps some mechanism for taxing obesity (especially for people enroled in government-funded health systems)? Most solutions sound a little unseemly, but – insofar as the public subsidizes healthcare – the obesity epidemic is both a personal and social burden.

  3. DrGordon says:

    The obesity epidemic is a real problem and what can we really do to help it as physicians? I counsel all of my patients to eat a balanced whole food diet and to stop fructose, which is the cause of NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), but it seems our patients want a quick fix like bariatric surgery and don’t want to change their habits. The best way to lose weight is through a balanced, whole food diet (organic is best), and many advocate a vegetarian or vegan diet as plant sources of protein appear to be best tolerated. Moderate exercise (walking 15 mins a day for the sedentary) also helps increase metabolism. However, most people don’t want to go to that extreme, so I find myself advocating the local farmer’s market and giving lots of diet advice (probably a lot more than most surgeons give). I also like this supplement, Shakeology, which is full of natural ingredients and helps curb cravings. The only thing I don’t like about Shakeology is that it uses a small amount of fructose as a sweetener. Of course, it’s not nearly as much as a soda, and it truly is enough to replace a meal. Check it out here:

    As far as taking children away from their parents, I don’t see how that could ever fly. There are some organizations that are beginning to change the way food is delivered in the school systems and that is the place where we should begin to educate our children and their parents about proper nutrition.

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