Lack of exercise and too much fast food has helped Americans exchange clipboard tummies for Buddha bellies in increasing numbers over the past two decades.
The climb has been so daunting that one expert believes at least 85 percent of the population will be obese by the year 2040.
The data reveals that 31 percent of adults 20 years of age and over — nearly 59 million people — are at least 30 pounds overweight and considered obese, compared with 23 percent in 1994, according to the data collected and analyzed by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of severely obese people (100 pounds or more overweight) increased from one in every 200 people in 1986 to one in every 50 people in 2000, the U. S. Today reported on Tuesday.
Locally the trend has also seen an upswing, although New Mexico’s obesity percentage is slightly below the national average. Two years ago, 18.8 percent of New Mexicans were considered obese, up from 7.8 percent in 1991.
“I think we’ve seen a rise everywhere, not just obese patients but our own employees,” said Erma Braun, an employee occupational health nurse at Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis. “I think our eating habits have gotten to be out of control. I think more people tend to eat fast food.”
Since unhealthy and fast foods are cheaper than healthy foods, Braun believes low-income families are more at risk for obesity, which in turn increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems.
Area McDonald’s restaurants have experienced a steady increase in business over the years, according to John Snowberger, who owns McDonald’s restaurants in Portales, Clovis, Tucumcari, Santa Rosa and Roswell.
“Our business has grown at a steady rate due to an aggressive drive through, increased staff and menu items that compliment different diets,” Snowberger said. “But let’s face it, most people don’t come to our restaurants to lose weight…”
Experts believe the nationwide rise in obesity can be attributed to environmental factors like the advance in computer technology, Internet service and the drop in physical education classes in schools.
“It has to do with people’s activity levels, their eating patterns,” said Tim Hensley, the spokesman for the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, in Atlanta, Ga. “Young people aren’t getting the same level of P.E. in schools as they once were, which is kind of changing the whole picture over time. We have computers now, people spending a lot of time watching television, and the computers and the computer games really didn’t enter into the picture as they have now.”