Scary Health Statistics: The Heavy Burden of Obesity

Weight is just a number on the scale, but for most people, it can indicate their risk for diseases associated with obesity.

If you’re a muscular person, you may weigh more than average and be in great shape, but when you have other risk factors, for example, you carry excess weight around your abdomen, now the risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease doubles.

Obesity is an independent risk factor for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, depression, some cancers such as breast and prostate, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Consider these scary health statistics I‘ve compiled:

Overweight and Obesity

  • OVER two-thirds (67%) of U.S. adults are overweight and about 33% of U.S. adults are obese. 
  • Said differently, only 33% of U.S. adults are at a healthy weight for their height.   
  • Obesity in adults and children, male and female, has doubled over the past 40 years, with the biggest increase seen since 1980.
  • Obesity is dramatically higher in the non-Hispanic Black and Mexican populations, especially women—more than 79% of black, and 73% of Hispanic American women are overweight or obese.
  • Adult obesity rates did not decrease in a single state over the past year, but rather increased in 23 states.
  • More than 30% of U.S. kids are overweight in 30 states (CDC)
  • Only 3 in 10 adults get the recommended amount of physical activity
  • Costs: In 1998 the medical costs of obesity were about $78.5 billion (50% financed by Medicare and Medicaid); in 2008 costs doubled to about $147 billion.

Pregnancy, Babies, Adolescents

  • Women who are obese when they conceive have 10 times the risk for high blood pressure compared to healthy weight women.  Their babies are more likely to be born with birth defects including spina bifida and heart defects.
  • Women who are overweight or obese before becoming pregnant are more likely to have gestational diabetes.
  • Women with pre-gestational diabetes are 3 to 4 times more likely than non-diabetic women to have babies with serious birth defects. 
  • Babies born in the United States in 2009 have a one in 10 chance of being obese by age 4—which means 10 % of all 4-year-olds in this country are obese.
  • Obese children have a 70 % chance of being overweight at age 25
  • Twenty-five percent of U.S. children spend 4 hours or more watching television daily.
  • Only 25% of high school students get even moderate physical activity: at least 30 minutes on 5 or more of the previous 7 days.
  • Only 28% in grades 9 through 12 participated in daily school physical education in 2003, down from 42 percent in 1991.

Type 2 Diabetes

  • Eighty to 90% of newly diagnosed diabetics (adults and children) have type 2 diabetes, and more than 80 % are overweight or obese. 
  • Every third person born in 2000 will have type 2 diabetes as an adult
  • 41 million Americans are estimated to have pre-diabetes
  • An obese man (BMI > 30), for example a 6-foot-tall man weight 225 pounds has double the chance of developing type 2 diabetes compared to someone with a ‘normal’ weight (BMI < 25), such as 180 pounds.  A 5’6” woman weighing 190 (BMI 30) has more than double the risk for developing diabetes compared to someone weighing 150 pounds.
  • Young weight correlates to higher risk for adult diabetes.  Overweight or obese at age 18 greatly increases risk for developing diabetes.
  • As an adult, weight gain of 11-18 pounds doubles the risk for developing type 2 diabetes compared with people who maintain a healthy weight. 
  • “Diabesity”® has been trademarked and refers to the close association between obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Heart Disease & Hypertension

  • Overweight and especially obesity increases risk for heart attack and artery blockage. 
  • You double the risk for high blood pressure if you’re overweight, especially if you have abdominal obesity
  • Although the risk is higher for minority populations, 75 and 65 % of the cases of hypertension in men and women, respectively, are directly attributable to overweight and obesity.


  • Obese men (BMI > 30) have double the risk for stroke compared to healthy weight-maintainers (BMI < 23).
  • Obese women or those who have gained more than 44 pounds since age 18 have double the risk for stroke, compared to healthy weight-maintainers.
  • Women who gain between 22 – 44 pounds since 18 have double the risk for stroke. 
  • The most important factors increasing risk for stroke include high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. 


  • Gallbladder, pancreatic and ovarian cancers are linked to obesity. 
  • Obesity and physical inactivity may account for 25 to 30 % of colon, breast (postmenopausal), endometrial, kidney, and cancer of the esophagus.
  • Women, who gain more than 20 pounds from age 18 to midlife double their risk for post-menopausal breast cancer, compared healthy weight-maintainers.

Note about Cancer Risk:  Since scientists have not determined if it the obesity, diet, lack of activity or a combination of these factors, the best advice is to adopt a healthy eating plan and stay active! 


Weight takes a huge toll on joints, tendons and muscles, especially in the knees and hips, and also lower back. The risk of osteoarthritis increases with every 2-pound gain in weight.


Overweight and depression are linked—although somewhat like a chicken and egg situation, obese people may be more depressed, but depression may also cause overeating.  A study published in the journal Pediatrics, found that the longer a child is overweight, the more he or she is at risk for depression and other mental health disorders.

Food Facts (Do you think these are related to obesity?  Read ‘em and weep!)

  • More than 50,000,000 Americans eat fast food daily (National Restaurant Association)
  • Eating fast food frequently doubles your risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes (Lancet, 2004)
  • The USDA recommends at LEAST five servings of fruits and vegetables daily (the minimum for good health).  The average American eats only three servings a day, and 42 % eat fewer than two servings a day.
  • Most Americans eat red meat, and a lot of it.  Diets high in red meat and low in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables are linked to higher rates of lung, colon and other cancers.
  • The “Western Diet” is described as high in dietary cholesterol, saturated fat, salt, and sugar with insufficient dietary fiber from plants.  This translates to fewer ‘phytochemicals’—healthy substances that help protect the heart and ward off cancer.
  • Studies show that this “Western diet” significantly raises the risk of coronary heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more.
  • Factory-farmed livestock is responsible for 18 % of our world global warming emissions and to environmental pollution.  An individual average meat eater is responsible for 1.5 more tons of greenhouse gases per year. 
  • ·         Twenty-five years ago, the average American consumed about 1,850 calories each day. Since then, our daily diet has grown by 304 calories (roughly the equivalent of two cans of soda). That’s theoretically enough to add an extra 31 pounds to each person every year.

Liquid Facts

  • More than 24% of adults drink one or more sugary sodas a day: these adults are 27% more likely to be overweight compared to soda-abstainers.
  • Killin’ the Kids: 62% of adolescents age 12 to 17 and 41% of children age 2 to 11 drink at least one sugar-sweetened drink a day.
  • Compared with 30 years ago, we consume an average 278 more calories per day, almost half of it from soda, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
  • For each glass of soda consumed per day, a child’s likelihood of becoming obese increases 60%. In the mid-1990s, children’s intake of sugared beverages surpassed milk.
  • A 20-ounce cola contains 15 teaspoons of sugar. Sports drinks have significant calories too:  a 12-ounce can of ginger ale has about 140 calories; a 12-ounce bottle of lemon-lime Gatorade has 90 calories.
  • On average each American drinks 597 cans of soda a year, or about 7,264 ounces.  That’s about 90,000 calories.  Cut the soda; reduce calories equivalent to about 26 pounds per year.

Other diseases associated with obesity:

  • Fatty Liver Disease: The higher the BMI the greater the risk for liver disease.
  • Chronic Venous Insufficiency:  Obesity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation—all are linked to development of chronic venous insufficiency.
  • Gallbladder Disease: Obese people have triple the risk for gallbladder disease and gallstones compared to healthy weight maintainers. 
  • Increased Health Risk of Breathing Problems: Sleep apnea, asthma, severe bronchitis are more common in obese people

The Good News

  • Lose just 5-10% of your current weight (if you are overweight and at risk) and reduce your risk significantly for high blood pressure, stroke, osteoarthritis, heart disease and diabetes. 
  • If you have pre-diabetes, you can arrest the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. 
  • Mood and fitness are related: people who get regular activity have more energy and are less likely to be depressed: studies show that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication at increasing energy levels and decreasing feelings of fatigue. (
  • Your body will respond when you take care of it.   Your blood pressure, triglycerides and your mood will improve with a healthy lifestyle management program.

Make weight control second nature – live thin naturally by taking it one food, one meal, one walk at a time. 

Registered and licensed dietitian Susan Burke March, MS, CDE, is the author ofMaking Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally– a book intended to liberate serial “dieters” and make living healthfully and weight-wise intuitive and instinctual over the long term. She may be reached online at

Check out HealthyWage, the website thay pays you to be healthy! 

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  1. This article is very eye-opening! Great information and it speaks to the challenge this nation is faced with.

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  2. People tend to underestimate the danger of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or fatty liver of obesity. It can and does result in liver failure much as fatty liver of alcoholism does. There are over 50 children in the state of California who have required liver transplant as a result of this disease.

    The process responsible for the laying down of fat in the liver is similar to what happens to geese when they are used to produce foie gras. In certain cities, the sale of foie gras is forbidden because its production is considered cruelty to animals yet the production of foie gras is not considered cruelty to children anywhere in this country.

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