In 1998, more than 30 million people became overweight. And guess what? It happened while they were sleeping.
That's right. In June of 1998, the number of overweight people in America increased by 50 percent--overnight! How did this happen? Did they all go on a massive potato chip binge? No. In fact, not one of them had gained a pound. Instead, a handful of researchers had decided to decrease the maximum healthy BMI (Body Mass Index) from 27 down to 25.
And instantly, millions of people were suddenly overweight. Their weight hadn't changed, but the reigning standards had. And suddenly we had an obesity epidemic on our hands.
Why Do We Call It an Epidemic?
The term obesity epidemic is in itself confusing. Typically when we speak of an epidemic we're referring to a literal epidemic of infectious disease (like the bubonic plague, for instance). But obesity isn't infectious. At least, I've never heard of anyone "catching" thirty pounds at the office.
Of course we also use the term epidemic to describe anything that is spreading rapidly through the masses. I might say we're having an epidemic of cell phones, for example, because since 1990 the number of cell phone users has increased by a staggering 37,000 percent! Now that's an epidemic of technology if I ever saw one.
When the media throws around the term "obesity epidemic," they appear to be attempting to describe a crisis of massive weight gain making its way through our society. This, however, may be an incredibly inaccurate picture of what's really happening with our weight.
How Much Weight Have We Really Gained?
We're constantly bombarded by the message that, as a society, we're fatter than ever. For the last several decades, we've been steadily gaining pound after pound and crossing the invisible line into obesity. Or have we?
In reality, the average weight gained is only a few pounds.
"When talking about the rise in our weights, many public health experts like to cite the dramatically increasing number of obese Americans. For instance, between 1980 and 1994, the number of obese Americans increased by 55 percent. While this seems like a large increase in obesity, it does not really reflect the amount of weight most Americans were gaining. Most Americans did not increase their weight by 55 percent; Americans gained, on average, only about seven to nine pounds, depending on their height."
- from Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America's Obesity Epidemic
Where Did the Epidemic Go?
Would it surprise you to learn the obesity "epidemic" has plateaued? It's true. We aren't becoming more and more obese, packing on endless pounds until every last one of us is clinically obese. Nope. The epidemic has apparently decided to take a break... for the last decade.
"No doubt Americans have gained weight over the last few decades. But if we are so concerned about an epidemic, why aren't we celebrating its apparent end? The incidence of obesity is no longer increasing. According to government statistics, obesity rates for women have leveled off and stayed steady since 1999, sufficient time to consider it a plateau. They have also leveled off for men, having been stable since 2003. Same is true for kids: The prevalance of obesity for children and teens is no different today than it was in 1999."
- from Health at Every Size
More to Come...
My intention is not to inarguably disprove the theory of an obesity epidemic, but to inspire questions regarding the accuracy of the information we've been told. Believe it or not, the debate over the presence of an obesity epidemic is just the tip of the iceberg. There are more discrepancies on the topic of weight to sift through, and this is a discussion I plan to continue right here on this blog.
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Fight Back Friday hosted by Food Renegade.