The American obesity epidemic is well-documented. Nary a day passes that the media doesn't report on this national public health crisis. The medical literature overflows with data analyzing the causes and treatments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other national health organizations preach change and recommend courses of action. Despite the hue and cry -- and in the face of all the negative consequences -- obesity rates continue to climb.
Over the last three decades in the U.S., the incidence of obesity among adults has grown by 50% per decade, while obesity among children and adolescents has tripled. Two thirds of adults in the U.S. today are either overweight or obese. And obese adults are not alone. The CDC reports that 17% of children and adolescents are obese. Obese children are not only likely to become obese adults, but their obesity is likely to intensify in severity.
Here in Texas, we saw obesity rates skyrocket between 1990 and 2008, rising from 12.3% to 28.9%. Mind you, these are folks with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater; these numbers do not include those who are simply overweight (BMI of 25-29.9).
In Bexar County over the last two decades, we have seen the incidence of overweight (BMI 25-29.9) and obesity (BMI > 30) among adults nearly triple, from 25% in 1990 to 69% in 2010. According to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Center, one in 10 adults in Bexar County is now diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, often brought on by being overweight or obese.
The so-called obesity epidemic is so severe, that a special report published in 2005 in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that "the steady rise in life expectancy observed in the modern era may soon come to an end and the youth of today may, on average, live less healthy and possibly even shorter lives than their parents." Did you catch that? Our children's life expectancy may well be less than ours.
The challenge we face is how to drive the message home and how to inspire change. How do we deliver the message so that folks realize that this is not an abstract concept? That there's a two-in-three chance that “they” are talking about you?
This summer, that message came home to me. I'm one of the two-out-of-three. Standing 5'10" and weighing 343 pounds, I was part of the obese crowd, not simply overweight. I've struggled with my weight all my life, so I know from personal experience that childhood obesity does indeed lead to adult obesity, and that left unchecked, the weight just keeps piling on. I decided it was time to change.
Over the last five months, I've lost 80 pounds. I did it by finally taking my medicine, finally acknowledging the message that I had to change the way I eat and the way I live. I had to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones. Mostly, I had to accept that there is no silver bullet. My eating habits and my sedentary lifestyle created the extra weight. Only by replacing my unhealthy habits with healthy ones would I achieve the real and permanent results that I wanted. I have seventy pounds more to lose, but for the first time in my life, I am optimistic about achieving that goal and sustaining the results.
Many, many organizations are doing lots of good work to educate, to evangelize healthy lifestyle choices and to offer opportunities to effect change. One such effort I've recently become aware of is Commitment Day (Facebook page). On New Year's Day, I will join an estimated 300,000 people in 30 cities who will walk, bike or run 5K in a demonstration of our commitment to live a healthier lifestyle (I’ll be walking!). San Antonio's Commitment Day event will take place downtown, kicking off near Travis & Camaron at 10 a.m. on New Year's Day.
But Commitment Day is about more than one day of action. It's about creating real change. It's an attempt to create a movement focused on improving our collective health. You can do your part by improving your own. Because only you can improve your health and quality of life. Others can provide you with education, support and inspiration, but moving to action is up to you.
My trainer Tom Trevino at MBS Fitness, my partner Brian, and several friends have committed to walking with me. One friend, Adele Williams, will join us with her 10-year old daughter.
“As a parent I felt it was important to set a good example for Emma and have her participate with me,” said Williams. “She's 10 years old, never had fast food in her entire life, but is lacking in outdoor activities (too much iPad). Healthy living is very important to both of us and this event helps us invite our friends and families to join in with something we are very invested in.“
This year, don't just make New Year's resolutions that fall by the wayside in a few months. Again. Make a commitment to yourself. Join the movement. Join us in starting the year off with a step (or two!) in the right direction. You can register online right now. Life Time Fitness is even offering free training when you register for the event.
What are you waiting for?
Hugh Donagher builds web sites and consults on social media strategy for small businesses and nonprofit organizations in the neighborhood and beyond. He occasionally blogs at Texas Yankeeand Alamo City Cocktails. He and his partner are charter members of the Southtown Lions Club and they can be found out and about at many of the establishments and events going on in Southtown.