Posted by: nickgerlich | August 28, 2007

Growing Pains

Businesses love to have the problem of trying to figure out how to accommodate increasing sales. It’s a nice challenge, and the best companies rise to the occasion without imploding.

But demographics are another story. In the last 15 years, the number of obese people in the US has risen markedly. In 1992, not one state reported more than 15% of its residents to be obese. Today, 47 out of 50 states (94%) have eclipsed the 20% level, with Mississippi leading the pack with a 30.6% obesity rate.

ObesityTechnically, “obesity” occurs when a person’s BMI (Body Mass Index) exceeds 30. BMI is calculated as 703 X (weight in pounds / height in inches squared). A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight.

I am 5’8″ in height, which means I would need only weigh 164.4 pounds to be “overweight.” If I ever expanded to 197.3 pounds, I would be obese.

The BMI is a rather strict measure when defining overweight, because the majority of Americans are 25 or above. Naysayers may argue that BMI does not account for percentage body fat, muscular development, and overall fitness, which is true. One could also argue that it is healthier to be a little overweight yet in good cardio-vascular shape, than to be sedentary and thin.

The point, though, of this essay is not to dissect BMI, but rather to bemoan this alarming trend: we are well on our way to becoming a fat country. And Mississippi is the role model.

In contrast, only 17.6% of Coloradans are obese, testimony no doubt to their active outdoor lifestyles. Every time I go there, it seems every third car is a Subaru, there are nearly as many bikers, rollerbladers, and runners as there are motorists, and cars sport roof racks as impressive as bull elk during the rut.

The US even has its own Blubber Belt, with Mississippi anchoring and Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virgina, and South Carolina casting admiring glances. Elastic waistbands rule!

These extra pounds are the horrible result of a combination of clever marketing and poor lifestyle choices. As a nation, we love (even crave) our fatty foods, and like nothing more than to sit down to a super sized meal.

Then we go home and do nothing.

Some like to blame our busy lives for allowing scant time for exercise. Desk jobs requiring nothing more exerting than typing or lifting a pencil do little to burn calories; our cars provide safe haven for munching and sipping even more.

The flip side of all this girth, though, is the enormous marketing opportunity for selling hope, which comes in the form of weight loss pills and programs, gym memberships, surgical procedures, and home exercise equipment.

The yin. The yang. I think I’ll go for a ride.

Dr “Can You See Your Toes?” Gerlich


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