Obesity in the United States

by Mark Whalen


Just last week, new statistics were issued describing the scale of the obesity problem in the US. Determination of obesity or overweight was based on the Body Mass Index (BMI) for each person. BMI is calculated via a formula based on your height and weight.

The BMI is not always accurate for people with large amounts of muscle mass (athletes, body builders) or elderly patients who have lost muscle mass. For those of us in the middle, it’s a decent indicator of our current health.

According to the BMI charts you are considered overweight if you have a BMI of 25-29.9% and obese if your BMI is over 30%.

Based on BMI measurements, 68% of US adults are either overweight or obese1. Yup, you read that right. Over two-thirds of US adults have an issue with their weight.

Most concerning is that this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Twenty years ago, not one state had an obesity rate over 20% . Today, only Colorado is under 20%, and they’re at 19.8%.2

Check out the maps outlining the changes over the last 20 years:


(Maps are copied from: F as in Fat: how Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011.  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health.  July 2011.  Jeffrey Levi PHD, Laura Segal MA, Rebecca St Lauren JD, David Kohn MA.)  *** If the map isn't showing, click in the empty box and it will bring you to the maps***

Risk Factors

Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk for a wide range of health problems. Okay, I was being nice: being overweight puts you at a higher risk of an early death. Take a look at the risk factors associated with being overweight/obese:

High Blood Pressure

High Cholesterol/Triglycerides




Heart Disease

Emotional Disorders

Kidney and Liver Disease

Arthritis 3

Obesity also impacts quality of life and studies show that obese people may experience prejudice in the work place, from their health care providers and for children, in the classroom.

Why are we getting fatter?

Obesity is multifactorial and not as simple as eat less - exercise more.

The obesity epidemic is fascinating to me because it hits on so many areas. There are socioeconomic factors like income and education levels, access to quality food, safe neighborhoods, city designs and many more.

There are also emotional aspects of weight gain/loss that are tied in to food choices. Some people eat poorly when celebrating, others when sad/depressed or bored.

Much has also been made about how inactive we’ve become. We watch too much tv, kids play too many games and don’t play outside, our cities aren’t designed for walking/biking, there are no safe playgrounds for kids, physical education is cut due to budget cuts etc…

Many of these issues are beyond the scope of this blog and beyond how I can help patients clinically.  This is the first in a series of blogs about obesity and how we can combat it one person at a time.  In future blogs we'll discuss the role of hormones in weight gain/loss; the importance of detoxification in weight loss, and acupuncture's role in assisting healthy weight loss.

For now, here is a list of the worst foods to consume. If you want to get a start on a healthier life, start avoiding these now:

1. Sugar and Artificial sweeteners like Nutrasweet, Splenda etc.. If you need a sweet flavor use Stevia, Xylitol

2. High Fructose Corn Syrup – may be listed as Corn Sugar on labels soon
Here’s a link to an article detailing why HFCS is worse for you than sugar, despite what the industry claims:

3. White Flour

4. Processed Foods

5. Fried Foods

There's nothing shocking or dramatic in this list.   Just a reminder in case you needed it.  Until next time, eat well.



  1. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Ogden CL, et al. Prevalence and Trends in Obesity among U.S. Adults, 1999-2008. Journal of the American Medical Association, 303(3): 235- 41, 2010.
  2. F as in Fat: how Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011.  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health.  July 2011.  Jeffrey Levi PHD, Laura Segal MA, Rebecca St Lauren JD, David Kohn MA.
  3. Obesity Epidemic in USA continues to spread-a serious problem in the south.  Nordquist, Christian.  July 9, 2011  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/230780.php
    Disclaimer: nothing in this article is designed to diagnose, treat, or cure any illness or disease.  Information is presented for educational purposes. Every effort is made to provide accurate information.

Mark Whalen is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist and the founder of Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness in Reading, MA.

Mark Whalen – who has written posts on Acupuncture Reading MA - Five Points Acupuncture & Wellness.


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