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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Is obesity a growing problem?
Overweight man in New York
Americans are getting fatter faster than ever before.

More than 119 million, or nearly two in three, of US adults are now considered to be overweight or obese, according to Trust for America's Health.

The report predicts that by 2008 almost three quarters of American adults could be overweight or obese.

The greatest increase has occurred in the south-east states. In Mississippi almost of adults are obese, with Alabama and Virginia close behind.

Why is the problem getting worse? How can obesity be tackled? What could encourage people to eat more healthily?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

People are their own worst enemies
Dale Street, Toronto, Canada
Our provincial government proposed a "fat tax" to be levied on fast/processed food. All the doughnut and burger outlets started petitions against it and the response was enormous! The bill was abandoned before being brought to the House. People are their own worst enemies.
Dale Street, Toronto, Canada

The biggest scourge to hit this planet is high fructose corn syrup. It gives tons of calories, little nutrition, and is in almost everything we consume. Cut the additives and preservatives from the food, and we would all be better off.
Robert Luzader, Old Fields, WV, USA

I don't really understand it. The food that most people eat is absolutely disgusting and yet they eat and serve portions large enough to fill a sumo wrestler's appetite. Exercise seems to be something in the US to be avoided at all costs for most people. Although some of us stay fit and healthy, the vast majority avoid healthy food and physical movement like the plague. Of course obesity is a growing problem but you have to look at the bottom line; eventually nature will correct this trend and Darwinian dynamics will prove, once again, that nature favors survival of the fittest.
Chris, Charlotte, USA

With increased pressure in regards to work, people are doing more hours and once work has finished, sitting there watching TV. I feel that more businesses should offer fitness activities. Luckily, I have to walk 2 miles to the station every morning and 2 miles home. But some days that is the only fitness based activity I have time to do!
Russ, Sheffield, UK

For a start, I'd like to see a massive tax imposed on sugar (including glucose, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup etc) - an ingredient that has zero nutritional value and costs the country millions in dental health problems and obesity. If a kilo of sugar cost the same as a packet of cigarettes, products containing sugar would soon become prohibitively expensive. Eating sugary foods would revert to being a luxury rather than an everyday event.
Lorraine, St Albans, UK

The health of it's citizens is indeed the governments responsibility. How can the US government help the obesity epidemic? Simple, building more bike paths and sidewalks to make doing errands without a car safer. Europeans don't understand that walking is not as common in the US because in many areas it's just not safe, huge SUVs, drivers on cell phones and the lack of sidewalks makes walking hazardous. No parent in their right mind would let their child walk or bike to the local library because it's simply not safe to walk or bike along roadways without sidewalks or designated bike lanes.
Tristen Hall, Hudson, New Hampshire, USA

People know that it's their own fault they're fat but just don't want to accept any responsibility
Mike, Cheshire
People don't just wake up one day and are suddenly obese. If I notice I'm putting on weight or my trousers are a bit tight I'll cut out the junk food and do more exercise. People know that it's their own fault they're fat but just don't want to accept any responsibility.
Mike, Cheshire

Is obesity a 'growing' problem? Well, yes. But seriously, thanks to my health-conscious Dad, I knew what to do when I hit 40 lbs over my ideal: blame only myself, exercise more, and eat less. It worked. I've been fit for years since. A few tips - walk everywhere, always take the stairs, stop griping!
Eric, Manila

I believe the key is exercise. The severely overweight person must begin to exercise and then adapt eating habits "eating close to the earth" meaning: stay away from "man-made" foods. Eat all the fruit, nuts, veg, fish, poultry, meat you want but stay clear of "man-made" things such as bread, cake, biscuits, sweets, soda etc. It's all about balance; just walking will not re-shape your body....exercising with resistance will!
Karin Gilmore, Royal Leamington Spa, United Kingdom

Obesity seems to be common in everything in the US. Not just regarding weight. Americans always have to have the biggest cars, the most spacious homes etc. What is this need to always have more? Why be burdened with so many possessions? In regards to obesity, maybe it's just plain laziness. People always want the quick and easy way out. Fast food, microwaveable food, anything that doesn't take any time or effort. News flash! There is a price for convenience - quality! Don't just shove anything down your throat because it's easy!
Frank, Ledyard, Connecticut USA

Regarding the fitness trainer in England - where everyone drinks tea while singing "God save the Queen" - I don't appreciate being lumped in with a stereotype of obese Americans at home watching American Idol. Some of us actually drive small cars, live in small houses, exercise regularly and appreciate living a healthy lifestyle. And some of us actually didn't vote for Bush either (49%).
Jef Guzik, Raleigh NC, USA

I had my first experience of visiting the US this year. There is no shortage of food outlets along each street and within shopping malls. I'm not a "healthy" eater, but a sensible eater. I found little choice at meal times and the portions were unbelievably large. I even offended 1 restaurant because it had appeared that I'd hardly eaten anything. It was more than enough for me. The image I took away with me from the US, was there was no will power to stop eating. If it was had to be eaten.
Helen, Farnham, Surrey

It's down to the massive food portions and that no one walks anywhere, everyone drives
Stephen, Glasgow, Scotland
As a regular traveller to the USA,I can honestly say that it's down to the massive food portions and that no one walks anywhere, everyone drives. If more simple exercise like that was taken it would surely help the situation.
Stephen, Glasgow, Scotland

Is obesity a 'growing' problem? Well, yes. But seriously, thanks to my health-conscious dad, I knew what to do when I hit 40lbs over my ideal: blame only myself, exercise more, and eat less. It worked. I've been fit for years since. A few tips - walk everywhere, always take the stairs, stop griping.
Eric, Manila

Obesity is a lifestyle choice for some people; common sense and a healthy lifestyle are the simple remedies for a problem that we all end up paying for in some form or other. How is something as simple as living healthily so hard to understand and put right?
Nina McDowall, London

To the person who claims that overweight people choose to have an unhealthy lifestyle, they are very uninformed. Sure, some people do overeat, but not all. Many are overweight because of an inherited form of insulin insensitivity. Those with that condition usually eat very little and many exercise a lot but still are overweight. Small does not always equate to being fit.
Kathryn, Leeds, UK

I think people should switch to using a bicycle as a mode of transport for short trips to the grocery store etc. It has a lot of advantages. That means having more cycle paths running parallel to the streets.
Percy Cleetus, Houston, USA

What do governments expect (well at least the UK one) when they sell off school playing fields in favour of apartments and allow every fast food establishment you can think of to open within walking distance of schools. No more needs be said.
Bil, Great Dunmow

Many blame genetics (which is partially to cause), but then give up
Katie, Chicago, USA
People don't want to listen. They have resigned themselves to the fact that they are overweight or obese. Many blame genetics (which is partially to cause), but then give up. The overwhelming amount of unhealthy food choices will never allow our country return to a healthy weight. Willpower is hard to find when it comes to the things we eat.
Katie, Chicago, USA

Well, I tend to spend a lot of time in the US and am currently over there, and believe me, there is no wonder. I just ordered a simple sandwich for lunch and ended up with at least a pound of meat in a bun, plus dressing, plus half a pound of cheese and one salad leaf. I managed though to avoid the 32 ounce soda that goes with such finger food. As long as they don't realise this, they'll keep getting bigger and bigger.
Cyril, London

For those who claim that it is not the government's responsibility to direct people in personal health matters should be reminded that obesity-related illnesses will cost the nation billions of dollars regardless of whether they implement new policies. So, why not support 'intruding government policy' that will cost less than the billions of dollars required to treat the problem after the fact?
Alison, Washington, DC, USA

The most alarming aspect of America's obesity epidemic is the increasing number of severely obese children and teenagers, resulting in high rates of diabetes and other diseases. Huge portions, sedentary recreation, and indifference to nutrition are creating a future healthcare catastrophe. I moved to the United States from Canada five years ago and have been shocked by the general apathy towards this serious medical crisis in the making.
Paul Robichaud, West Haven, United States

It's a simple solution, for those of us who are fortunate to have access to too much food, everything in moderation, that includes exercise We all like eating, but you need will power to control it and have the will power to get up and really is that simple.
Matt Courtney, London, UK

Society has become so convenient it will kill people
Christina, Ohio
Having moved from Sweden to an Ohio suburb, I immediately stated that one of the biggest problems here is the use of cars and lack of walking. In Sweden it was a hassle to take the car, here it is necessary and many people doesn't have in their mindset one can walk. The car is going everywhere - even short distances. Moreover, it seems to me many Americans have lost their sense of self. The lawn is mowed by a landscaper, the pizza is delivered, and most rather sit in the line at the banks drive-through than step out and walk inside. Society has become so convenient it will kill people.
Christina, Ohio

Most of the food available today is refined and concentrated, this makes it easy to each loads of calories without feeling full. Leave the fibre in foods and people would feel full after eating a lot less calories. It is frightening when you think there are about a dozen spoons of sugar in a two litre bottle of cola.
Chris, Telford, UK

People are overweight because they simply take in more calories than the body needs for its level of activity or metabolic rate. No one is to blame but those that are overweight. Reasonable portion sizes, most importantly, and staying physically active guarantees a slim physique. Removing the burden of responsibility from those that are overweight is the biggest part of the obesity problem.
Allen T, CA, America

Fast food is OK as long as it's eaten in moderation. I know very many fat people who eat one meal a day or less. Probably less than 500 calories daily. They are still fat. There may be other factors at play, look at China's growing obesity problem. It's possible that obesity can be a disease that can be caught regardless of lifestyle.
Jeff, Chicago, USA

When you consume oil and sugar all day you really don't have the energy to exercise, do you?
Sierra Collom, Portland, Oregon
The poorer classes of American society are much more prone to obesity than the wealthier classes. Why? Because fast food and food high in sugar and fat is also the cheapest and easiest food to acquire, of course. The junk food lobbyists don't give a damn and purport that exercise is the problem, not diet. They have given the Bush administration thousands of dollars to maintain that sentiment. Well, when you consume oil and sugar all day you really don't have the energy to exercise, do you? If America was really concerned about its obesity problem, the government would be giving the poor the opportunity to eat quality, not quantity, and it would be addressing the state of public school lunches, school vending machines, and aggressive advertising.
Sierra Collom, Portland, Oregon

There's been so little education in the fat content of foods that it's really hard for people to grasp. I only know more about it now after having to go on a low-fat diet due to having MS, and being shocked at the fat content of most foods in the shops, and that's not talking about takeaways either. A very small snack of cheese and crackers can be a third of the daily fat allowance. I would have eaten two of those once in a heartbeat! And then consumed who knows how much fat in the rest of my meals. I know I had a very high-fat diet once. People I speak to regarding dietary recommendations for fat stare blankly and don't have a clue. Education is what's needed, and then a good dose of determination for a better life. Nobody can do it for us.
Carol Brown, Adelaide Australia

Losing weight is as simple as burning more energy than you consume. Make time in your 'busy day' to eat healthy meals of an appropriate size and get some more exercise. It's amazing how much time people have to complain about second-hand smoke killing them, but they won't change their own habits to stop killing themselves. No special diet needed; meat, starch and veggies like was the norm 30 years ago is fine, just don't eat so much.
Sean Aschen, New Haven, USA

American culture is essentially the culture of the microwave
Ryan Porter, Detroit, Michigan, USA
It saddens me to see a great many Americans living sedentary lifestyles. The obesity epidemic is caused by many factors, not just one or two. The one that seems most prevalent to me is the fact that American culture is essentially the culture of the microwave. Many of us (myself included) are very busy and find it difficult to set aside time to make a healthy meal. The Japanese man who said that the answer to obesity is a change in lifestyle is correct. The problem is that American media and the growing portions of fast food, among other things, make living a healthy lifestyle a conscious choice. You have to weigh the consequences and try very hard to live a healthy lifestyle in America and most other Western nations but it can be done.
Ryan Porter, Detroit, Michigan, USA

The size of portions here in the US is obscene! The worst thing is that you ask for a smaller portion, they look at you like you're crazy. Then when you say you don't want a box to take your leftovers home in, they look at you like you're an alien. All restaurants and food establishments ought to start serving smaller portions, if you really want to eat more then you can just order more. I'm fed up of wasting half a plateful of food every time I eat out when there are people in the world starving.
Jen, Las Vegas, USA (ex-pat)

Biologically, natural selection has favoured humans who like foods that are rich in sugars, fats and salt. The food industry knows this far too well and is loading our food with highly caloric and nutritionally useless (in high doses) sugars and fats. Let's regulate this aspect of the food industry while we set on the long and twisted path of changing people's life style and habits. Excessive portion size and all you can eat places are aberrations in eating habits that I found most disturbing when I moved here from Europe. Of course, I don't have to comply and I don't. But I can imagine how difficult it is for someone who, having grown up here, was raised with idea that 'big' and 'a lot of' are more desirable than quality.
Elena Collerica, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

There should be some kind of financial incentive to lose weight
Joel, Houston, Texas
I choose to be healthy and work very hard at it. I think that there should be some kind of financial incentive to lose weight like some sort of fat tax. This way us healthy people don't have to subsidize fat peoples medical costs with our high health insurance premiums.
Joel, Houston, Texas

The quantity and quality of the food we eat, although significant, is not the core issue. Americans are working ever longer hours at customer service and information based jobs. Sitting behind a desk for 10 hours a day, in addition to an average hour and a half round trip commute leaves little time for other important things, exercise and proper food preparation included. This is a direct result of the suburbia lifestyle, whose other negative implications are well documented. Until this nation comes to terms with this flaw in social planning (or the absence thereof), obesity, social isolation, and consumerism (which necessitates the American work ethos), will continue to be increasing problems for the fabric of American society. Although there are regions within America that are attempting to address this central issue through strong community leadership, mainly in the areas of zoning and planning and real estate development, the suburbia problem is still increasing in most areas. I doubt that we have seen the apex of the obesity problem.
Nathan Soendker, Missouri, USA

I work for a major fast food company as an accountant. The people here are no fatter than any other company I have worked at. All Morgan Spurlock did was tell people if they ate 5,500 calories a day they would get fat. That is just amazing! Who knew? My father-in-law runs marathons, 6ft weighs 155lbs, and he gets to eat about 3,000 calories a day in training. If you go to the fast food websites and add up just how much food you have to eat to get to that calorie count you would be shocked. It is about choices. Any type of food can fit into your diet but it is the portion and frequency that count. By the way, my father-in-law is 65 in excellent health and loves cookies and butter.
April, Chicago, US

Portions can be an issue, but in my experience it's more about the quality of food and a person's activity level. In the US, one study found that people who live in cities, despite the increased pollution and other urban features, are generally healthier than those who live in suburbs. Why is this? Because when you live in the city you walk or take the bus (walking to and from bus stops as well). It's nice to have the personal space that suburbia allows (though I don't understand the huge houses they keep building now), but the main problem with it is that you can't get anywhere by walking and are forced to fit walking into your schedule as recreation if you want to stay fit.
Mel, New Jersey, USA

Obesity is one symptom of the more fundamental problems in US society/culture
Christopher, NYC, USA
I have lived here for nine years and have to say that the abundance of food and inexpensive dining out is quite scary in comparison to the UK. I think that with deeper examination you would find that obesity is one symptom of the more fundamental problems in US society/culture.
Christopher, NYC, USA

It seems that it would be overly simplistic to think that diet and exercise are the cause and/or cure to obesity. The dramatic rise of obesity must be influenced by something else. Are there chemicals in our food and/or environment that cause changes in our bodies? Is MSG the culprit?
Dan, Detroit, Michigan, USA

I had never been to US, but I have heard a lot about their problem. I know that we have fast food stores in Moscow, which are growing rapidly. However they do not go well in Chelyabinsk, which is 2,000km away from Moscow. Most cities in the US are large and busy, like Moscow, so that is probably why many people are overweight as they do not have enough time to spend on themselves. Also their tastes are being influenced by the fast food advertisement every day.
Maxim, Chelyabinsk, Russia

In the UK food and the bad diet is a cultural thing. I'm appalled to see my middle-aged work colleagues eating all the time crisps, snacks, chocolate bars and drinking coke. You can imagine how they treat their kids. I would support a strong government policy to ban (or impose a huge tax)on all of this but at the same time forcing producers and retailers to sell healthy natural produce (fruits, vegetables, good bread) at a low price. The social problems start here, they are well too pricey and people turn to cheap stuff.
Antonio, London, UK

Living in New York City, I am fully exposed to the serious obesity problem
Alan Avidar, New York, USA
Living in New York City, I am fully exposed to the serious obesity problem that we have here in the US. Obese and overweight people are everywhere, and it's a shame that we have gotten so used to it that many people don't even notice them anymore. I'm sure tourists from around the world come here and notice our problem.
Alan Avidar, New York, USA

My son is obese. He is 16 years old. My wife continually offers apples and other fresh fruit. He scorns anything that doesn't contain fat or lacking a high sweet content. We even bought him a bulldog hoping that it would encourage him to take up exercise. Now both him and the dog take no exercise and just eat.
Ian, Herts, England

I have been obese for about a decade! I do not enjoy being overweight, as I get older I am finding it increasingly difficult to lose weight and have found it is almost impossible to get any real help. Surprisingly (to me at least), doctors do not help, even when asked (until the obesity triggers a medical condition, i.e. heart attack etc. Whilst I fully appreciate I am responsible for my condition, I need help, I think the NHS should take steps to help those who are obese and seriously trying to fight the bulge by providing dieticians. This I can assure you is not the case. Common sense dictates that in the long run, it would save costs and lives.
Chris, Liverpool

Having been to America regularly to visit my sister I can say that the food portions over there are totally ridiculous! It is no wonder the population is getting fatter, it's just too difficult to resist eating. There are food outlets on every street and it's all so cheap.
Ursula Arnold, Swansea, Wales

Diet and exercise are the key components to minimizing obesity
Saotomae, Tokyo, Japan
Diet and exercise are the key components to minimizing obesity. However, it is far too easy to overlook what these two components imply. Quite simply they imply a change in lifestyle. Unfortunately, lifestyle is difficult to change especially when so many look to food for comfort and happiness.
Saotomae, Tokyo, Japan

We have known this for years. When I left America I lost 13 kilos in 1 year and did not change my lifestyle that greatly (eating at least). I simply changed one simple thing in my life: I stopped driving a car. I walk or bike everywhere. That made the difference.
Cole, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Obesity should not be the government's business and no intruding government policy should be required to address it. Sure, help should be available for anybody who wants help, but it's not the government's job to direct people in personal health matters. Anybody who doesn't understand by now that obesity is unhealthy isn't going to benefit from new policies at taxpayer's expense.
Ted Bogart, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

I can't stand it that I am being forced to subsidize the health costs of those who pursue unhealthy lifestyles. My insurance premiums reflect the cost of treating those who smoke, overeat, or choose to drive without a seatbelt. I can't tell you how many times I've had to suffer in an airline seat because someone is big enough to occupy (and should pay for) two seats. We hear a lot about recognizing the rights of obese people, but what about the rights of those who choose to be healthy?
Mike, Washington, DC USA

A lot of aspects of the US society follow the obesity trend
Pascal, Paris, France
Unfortunately, it seems that nowadays, a lot of aspects of the US society follow the obesity trend. Cars (SUV's) are obese, houses (new family homes with on average 5000 sq ft and 4 garages) are obese, fuel and water consumption are of obese proportions and so on. As far as food is concerned, as long as the US food industry keeps on producing on average more than 5000 calories per capita per day, the obesity problem is not about to vanish.
Pascal, Paris, France

3/4 population is dying without food and remaining 1/4 population is dying with too much of food. I don't know whether this model of the world is working
Shaz, Varanasi, India

This is not just a problem in America, it all comes down to advertising and the fact that on every street corner there is a convenience store selling food to go which is full of fat. Also Americans would much rather sit at home watching American Idol then go down the gym (where they could watch and exercise). I am about to start my training to become a fitness instructor to help people become fit and try and increase peoples awareness. I am fed up of seeing people stuff fast food down their throats and saying things like I'll start my diet tomorrow! Yea right! Being healthy is great!
Tim Bucksey, Portchester England

US people getting fatter, fast
25 Aug 05 |  Health


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