Are You Fat?

Obesity in the United States has more than doubled in just twenty years

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The image of "obesity" often conjures up people who can barely fit through a doorway or who always require two airline seats.

But chances are, a quarter to a third of your friends and co-workers are obese - even if they walk through the doorway just fine.

One problem is that many people don't realize what "obese" really is. When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out with their most recent map of obesity in the U.S., even health experts on Twitter and in the blogosphere were stunned.

"Ask your doctor if you are a healthy weight."

The map clearly shows that at least one quarter of the adult population are officially obese in all but a handful of states. In much of the South, the rate is over a third.

A brief history of the growth of obesity in the U.S. over the past three decades can be seen in maps provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the years.


Not many states have data from 1985, but of the ones that do, 13 states had rates of obesity under 10 percent, and eight states had rates between 10 and 14 percent.

Five Years Later, in 1990...

The obesity rate was still under 10 percent in 10 states. In all but six of the other states (where no data was available), the rate was 10 to 14 percent.

By 1995, The Numbers Grow…

Every state reports an obesity percentage, and no state has a rate below 10 percent anymore. About half of the states report a rate from 10 to 14 percent, and half report a rate from 15 to 19 percent.

In 2000, They Keep Growing

In 2000, now half the states are reporting rates between 20 and 24 percent.

In 2005, Doubling Down

By 2005, the rate of obesity has more than doubled in nearly every state from the rates in 1985 or 1990. Three states have rates over 30 percent, and every southern state except Florida reports rates from 25 to 29 percent.

By 2010, 35.7 percent of people in the United States are fat.

Nearly all the southern states have rates over 30 percent, and most of the East and Midwest have rates between 25 and 29 percent. Just 14 states report a rate between 20 and 24 percent, and no states report a lower rate than that.

In 2011, the CDC made changes to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which they use to collect data, so rates from 2011 onward cannot be compared against past rates. Still the high numbers across the country remain. The lowest rate of obesity in the nation is 20.7 percent in Colorado, and no state has less than 20 percent. In 12 states - mostly in the South - th rate is 30 percent or more.

But we don't see 25 to 30 percent of the people on the street or in the food store waddling heavily or barely squeezing through the check-out lane.

That's because obesity is not based only on a person's weight. Obesity relates to having too much body fat compared to the muscle, bone and water in your body.

One person can be 160 pounds and be obese. Another person can be 200 pounds and be at a healthy weight. Obesity is measured most commonly by calculating a person's body mass index, or BMI.

How To Measure Your BMI

The BMI is a ratio of a person's height and weight in metric measurements. To calculate your BMI, follow these steps:

1. Find out your weight in kilograms. One pounds is 0.45 kilograms, so multiply the number of pounds you weight by 0.45 to find out your weight in kilograms. For example, if you weigh 190 pounds, that's 85.5 kilograms. (190 x 0.45 = 85.5)

2. Find out your height in meters. Measure your height and convert it to inches. One foot is 12 inches, so if you are 5'6", then you are 66 inches (5 feet x 12 inches, plus 6 inches).

Then, multiply your height in inches by 2.54 to find out your height in centimeters. (In this example, 66 x 2.54 = 167.6 cm.) Finally, divide the answer by 100 to find out your height in meters. (167.6 divided by 100 is 1.68 meters.)

3. Square your height in meters. (In this example, 1.68 x 1.68 = 2.82.)

4. Now, divide your weight in kilograms by the answer in #3. In our example, a person who is 5'6" (1.68 meters) and weighs 190 pounds (85.5 kilograms), would divide 85.5 by 2.82. The answer is 30.3, which we can round to 30.

So, a person who is five feet, six inches tall and weighs 190 pounds has a BMI of 30. So what does that mean? It means that person is obese. In using BMI, 30 is the cut-off for obesity.

A person with a BMI below 18 is underweight. A person with a BMI from 18 to 24 is a healthy weight. A person with a BMI from 25 to 29 is overweight. A person with a BMI at 30 or above is obese, and 40 or above is extremely obese.

Where do you fall? And what does it mean?

BMI is not a perfect measurement of how healthy or unhealthy a person's weight is. A person with a lot of muscle might have a higher BMI but a lower percentage of body fat. But it is a good rough measure. If your BMI is 30 or above, you should definitely talk to your doctor about whether you need to lose weight and the best way to do it.

Health Risk Factors Associated with Obesity

Being obese means more than not being able to squeeze into a favorite pair of jeans. It means someone is at a higher risk for developing a wide range of diseases and health problems. People who are obese are at a higher risk for developing high blood pressure and heart disease, which means they are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

They are also much more likely to develop arthritis, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, one of the fastest growing diseases in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. In fact, 26.9 percent of Americans over age 65 had diabetes in 2010, and 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases are type 2 diabetes.

And it's not just senior citizens living with diabetes. In addition, 1.9 million people over age 20 were diagnosed for the first time with diabetes in 2010. The disease used to be rare among children but has been growing in recent years because of the childhood obesity epidemic.

Obesity has also been linked to mental health problems such as depression and eating disorders. For those who are pregnant, being obese can mean a higher risk of birth complications and possibly more problems for their children, such as being at risk for obesity or diabetes themselves.

What Do You Do?

Many people claim that exercise is the best way to reduce obesity, but exercise can only take a person so far. Some experts state that exercise can only account for about 10 percent of a person's weight loss. The most important change to make to lose weight and become healthier is to change your diet. There are four major changes you can make to your diet to begin to lose weight in a healthy way:

1. Eat less.

2. Eat less processed foods.

3. Eat less snacks.

4. Eat less sugar.

Yes, it sounds easier said than done, so it helps to have a plan. If you are serious about losing weight, meet with your family doctor to develop a plan that will help you lose weight in a healthy way and keep it off.