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Facing a big problem

I am obese.
Not an easy thing to say. When I’ve considered my weight, I’ve probably said something like, “Dude, you could lose a few pounds.”
I don’t, however, think I’ve ever said, “Dude, you are obese.”
As hard as that is for me to believe, it is, apparently, true. The last time I visited my doctor — not that long ago — I noticed some information on the form they hand you when you leave. It was information I hadn’t noticed before. Along with what I came in for, what the doctor found, the medications I take, was this: BMI — 30.98.
BMI. Body Mass Index. Now, of course of I’ve heard of body mass index. I’m aware it exists. But I’m no doctor. Or personal trainer (you can tell by looking me). Or nutritionist (you can tell by looking at what I eat). So I’ll have to defer to the experts for a good definition. From the Centers for Disease Control:
“Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height. BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems.”
What weight category am I? Well, obesity begins at 30, and I’m what they call “moderately obese.” I prefer to think of it as slightly obese, or maybe just a little bit obese. Whatever you call it — and again, I’m no doctor (ask my doctor) — I think, in less technical terms, this means there is too much of me to love. Or maybe just extra.
It also means, unfortunately, that I have a lot of company.
The Centers for Disease Control has a whole division devoted to physical activity, nutrition and obesity, and a section of its website devoted to this topic. You can see it at www.cdc.gov/Obesity .
Why is the CDC so worried about people’s waistlines? Because it’s a big (I know) problem. According to the agency, the U.S. population has seen a “dramatic increase” in obesity over the past 20 years. Today, nearly 36 percent of adults in the U.S. and about 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese.
In 2012, every state in the union reported at least 1 in 5 adult residents were obese. In North Carolina, that figure was nearly 30 percent. In 1994, the figure was less than 20 percent in North Carolina, and less than 15 percent in most states.
Why does it matter? Again, from the CDC:
“The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.”
And if that doesn’t grab you, maybe this will:
“Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.”
While some school systems across the country are fighting the federal nutrition guidelines that call for healthier lunches, the CDC is looking for new colors for its maps. Maybe it can recycle the shades of blue that used to represent states with less than 20 percent of adults qualifying as obese, since it’s not using them anymore.
Clearly, body mass index is not the only way to measure health. But it is one measure, and it can be useful. Obesity is a problem. A big, big problem. And while some people don’t need a BMI number to tell them they’re obese, some people do, and they need that knowledge while there’s still time to make meaningful lifestyle changes.
You don’t have to wait for a visit to your doctor. The CDC website mentioned earlier has BMI calculators, one for adults and one for children and teens.
So, yes, I am obese. And I can’t afford to stay that way. Can you?

Scott Jenkins is news editor of the Salisbury Post.

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