Did you hear?… On the fat track

Forget global warming, global fattening is the looming threat around the world. Recent research by Gallup Poll and the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity show that adults and children are on a faster track to excessive weight and poor health than thought, while a study by the America On the Move Foundation works to disprove the stereotype that obese people are apathetic about losing weight.

Forget global warming, global fattening is the looming threat around the world. Recent research by Gallup Poll and the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity show that adults and children are on a faster track to excessive weight and poor health than thought, while a study by the America On the Move Foundation works to disprove the stereotype that obese people are apathetic about losing weight.

Adults & obesity
On average, American men are only an inch taller than men in Canada and Great Britain, but they weigh nearly 10 pounds more than Canadian men and nearly 15 pounds more than British men, according to Gallup Poll's annual (2005) survey on health. Seventy percent of U.S. men are overweight, compared with 55 percent of men in Canada and 42 percent of men in Great Britain.

By contrast, 44 percent of women in the United States are overweight, compared with 33 percent of women in Canada and 32 percent in Great Britain. At 5 feet, 5 inches tall, American women are also only an inch taller, on average, than women in Canada and Great Britain. They are 7 pounds heavier than Canadian women and 10 pounds heavier than British women.

Despite the considerable lead held by U.S. men in this weight comparison, they are only slightly more likely to say they are overweight (41 percent) than are men in Canada (33 percent) and Great Britain (36 percent). Also, U.S. men are no more likely than U.S. women to consider themselves overweight. Just 41 percent of men versus 44 percent of women say they are either very or somewhat overweight when asked to describe their personal weight situation. By contrast, U.S. women are more sensitive to their weight relative to British and Canadian women.

According to Gallup's data, lack of exercise does not appear to be the sole determinant of America's weight problem, but it is a weighty contributor. U.S. adults are much more likely than the British to report being physically active. Only 19 percent of the British, compared with 29 percent of Americans and 32 percent of Canadians, are classified as highly active in Gallup's physical exercise index. Conversely, 60 percent of the British are classified as sedentary or exert low levels of exercise, compared with 51 percent of Americans and 45 percent of Canadians.

As for eating habits, one-quarter of Americans (24 percent) told Gallup in July 2004 that their diet is "very healthy," compared with nearly a third of adults in Great Britain (30 percent) and Canada (32 percent).

Kids & obesity
Rather than getting better, the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, a new, peer-reviewed, quarterly journal devoted to research into obesity during childhood and adolescence, is also painting a grim picture for the world's children that is in fact worse than thought. On every continent, child's waistlines are expanding, driven by low-energy lifestyles and high-energy foods.

Estimates published suggest that the proportion of school-age children in Europe who are obese has risen almost 50 percent since the late 1990s and will nearly double to 6.4 million by 2010, the journal said. The number who are overweight is expected to grow by 1.3 million a year to a total of 26 million across the European Union in four years, more than a third of the population of children. And, almost half of children in North American and South America will be overweight in four years if the present trend continues. The problem of obesity in schools is described by the U.S. Surgeon General as "every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today."

The International Journal of Pediatric Obesity is owned by the International Association for the Study of Obesity. The findings were published in its premiere issue available this month in print and online.

A ray of light?

Despite the downward spiral, a study conducted by the America On the Move Foundation is trying to debunk the stereotype that obese people are apathetic about losing weight and being more active -- although it looks at just a slice of America. Polling a cross-section of 1,000 adult Arkansans, the non-profit's survey reported that 71 percent of obese Arkansans would like to become more physically active and improve their health, and 58 percent of that group would like to do so on their own.

The statewide survey, administered by Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation, also found 83 percent of adult Arkansans reported that they believe obesity to be a problem of poor eating and poor lifestyle habits, and 54 percent expressed a strong interest in becoming more physically active. How easy that will be is debatable, as 65 percent reported they want to increase their physical activity "on their own" as opposed to turning to other sources for help, such as health clubs and faith or community-based organizations.

SNEWS® View:
Sadly, perhaps it's a matter of perspective. If you are 6-0 or under on a professional basketball team, you would be considered short. But in an everyday environment, you'd be very tall. Same with weight: The fatter people are around you, the less unusual you will seem if you too are fat, although maybe not quite as fat. In fact, you may seem of normal weight if you are an average-height woman who weighs 180. Maybe that's why more Americans don't call themselves overweight or inactive. It has become closer to the norm.


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