With the steady plumping of America - not to be deterred by South Beach, power yoga, or lyposuction - obesity is taking over as America's top health bad boy. But is an extra 20 or 200 pounds hanging off America really anything to be worried about? A couple of facts:


The Center for Disease Control uses the Body Mass Index (BMI) to say what's obese. Your BMI is just how much you weigh compared to your height. A BMI of 25+ says you're overweight. 30+ makes you obese. (One example: a person of 5'6" is overweight at 155 pounds and obese at 186 pounds.) To calculate your BMI, you can go to the CDC website. (They'll also explain the obvious problem with BMI classifying body-builders as obese.)

Causes of obesity:

In addition to the eating-too-much cause, obesity can be caused by genetic disorders, such as Bardet-Biedl syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome, and diseases, such as Cushing's disease and polycystic ovary syndrome. (CDC)

Percentage of Americans who are overweight and obese:

  • According to CDC (2000): 64% are overweight, 30% are obese. (If you have powerpoint, you can watch America slowly get fatter with this slide show from CDC)
  • According to TFA (2004): 65% are overweight, 25% are obese.
  • Percentage of children who are overweight (Note: CDC's definition for "overweight" is different for children than the one used for adults. See links for more info):
  • 2000: 15% (CDC);
  • 1988-94: 11% (CDC);
  • 1976-80: 6% (CDC).

Health problems.

CDC says obesity is "significantly associated" with (CDC):

  • Diabetes;

  • High blood pressure;

  • High cholesterol;

  • Asthma;

  • Arthritis.

Health care costs

Health care costs attributable to obesity (1998) (CDC):

  • $52 billion, according to Medical Expenditure Panel Survey;

  • $79 billion, according to National Health Interview Surveys.

Number of deaths that "may" be attributable to obesity:

  • 300,000 American deaths a year (HHS).

Note: Even though obesity is a national health problem, many experts agree that being obese does not necessarily make a person unhealthy. (Washington Post) In fact, a 2005 study found that being slightly overweight actually decreases your health risks (NYT).

Where the facts are from:

Other sources of info:

  • United Health Foundation's report on the state of America's health, comparing how states rate on 18 health indicators.

Did we miss something, let some slant slip in, lose a link - or do you just have something to say? Drop a line below! In the spirit of open dialogue, cJ asks you keep it civil, keep it real and keep it focused on the message, not the messenger. See our policy page for more on what that all means.

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Exercise vs diet

The problem with defining obesity using BMI is that while it is a useful measure for populations, it doesn't predict the health risk of individuals. Exercise or fitness more precisely makes the difference. It doesn't matter what your BMI is, if you are fit, you will not suffer the health problems associated with obesity. We need to stop worrying about what we look like and figure out how to get more Americans moving. Being sedentary is our real health risk.

Bronxdoc (not verified) | September 27, 2008 - 7:58pm

I believe exercise is the

I believe exercise is the key to overcoming obesity, with diet a close second. These require self control!

dujardin | January 15, 2008 - 8:48pm

I agree even eating in

I agree even eating in moderation or healthier, smaller portions of un healthy foods. Exercise plays a roll yes but if you are still consuming more calories then you are burning each day you will always be over weight or not lose any. It's to easy just get eating disorder treatment and do nothing else but you really need a little motivation to exercise and at the same time reduce the amount of calories you take in each day.

mginsberg | February 26, 2008 - 3:26pm

Obesity Comment by Kevin and Nadia

We believe that there sould be something done about obesity in this society. The reason for this is because obesity can cause more deaths and it could be prevented. It can be prevented by having health classes. Also by having stress classes.

Tweety91690 | January 8, 2008 - 12:32pm


We all know that problems today has to do with obesity. I believe that this issue effects others of their healthy lifestyle causing them to have diabetes and astma just because their over weight. I can admitted that I'm over weight but I do try to change my daily lifestyle and eat more healthier. I don't think being over wieght is morally wrong becasue all people are born with an instinct to eat more and more. Its not because want to but its the genetics they are born with.

darknightroad09 | January 8, 2008 - 11:35am