The first character we meet is Cindy. Born and raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana, Cindy is the mother of two grown sons and now a proud grandmother. Cindy allowed HBO into her home and life to discuss some very painful things. Only 99 pounds when she got married, Cindy has struggled with her weight ever since her first pregnancy. And it’s only gotten harder.
Health and behaviors in early childhood can have serious consequences later on in life. The Bogalusa Heart Study – of which Cindy was a participant – shows that overweight and obese children have risk factors for heart disease, even at a young age.
The obesity epidemic is a problem that’s emerged over the last 30 years. It threatens our nation’s social, economic and physical health. But, unlike a natural disaster, obesity is often preventable. Although overall obesity prevalence rates appear to be leveling off, there are still far too many Americans who are overweight or obese and who continue to develop health problems as a result. In order to end the epidemic, everyone must be part of the solution.
At the level of our DNA, we’re programmed to eat as much as we can to survive and store the extra as fat for future energy use. In a world where calorie-dense, sugar-laden and fatty foods are available around every corner, that’s a problem. The good news is that, even if the propensity to gain weight is written into our genes, we’re not fated to a lifetime of fat.
As we take a look at communities across the country – from New York City to Santa Ana, California – it is clear that we have all been getting heavier. But the problem doesn’t affect all communities equally. The sad fact is that obesity rates are higher in some ethnic communities and in lower-income states. The trends are so extreme that they are attracting the attention of health officials and lawmakers.
Obesity among children is also rising, and it’s a real threat that may have lasting health consequences. As Anna Busby says, based on her observations as the nurse of the Bogalusa Middle School Health Clinic, overweight and obese children are at risk of being “on dialysis in their thirties if we don’t do something now.” The good news is that we can make a difference in our children’s lives both now and as they get older by helping them adopt healthy eating behaviors and become more active.
There’s a powerful connection between being overweight or obese and having heart disease as an adult. The heart, our hardest-working muscle, spends every second of every day vigorously pumping blood to the farthest reaches of our bodies. The larger we become, the harder our hearts have to work to keep blood circulating. The bottom line: being overweight or obese places you at a higher risk of developing heart disease and suffering a stroke as an adult.
Beyond the cardiovascular system, excess weight has negative consequences throughout the body. “Almost every organ system in the body is adversely affected by having excess body fat,” says Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
Even a small amount of excess weight, accumulated slowly at the rate of a few pounds a year over many years, can lead to type 2 diabetes. Being over 45 years of age, having a family history of diabetes, being physically inactive and being overweight or obese can increase a person’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes. If poorly controlled or left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to a number of serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, amputation and even death.
Obesity is not only one of the top public health issues facing our country; it’s also a threat to our nation’s bottom line. Rising obesity rates threaten to drag our economy down through higher health care costs and lower productivity. Currently, 69% of American adults are overweight or obese.