Despite the billion-dollar ministrations of the weight-loss industry, American adults are still gaining weight. Thirty-five percent of men and 40 percent of women are now obese, according to new data from federal researchers, and the gender gap is widest among the most seriously overweight.
But women — and new mothers in particular — are uniquely positioned to help solve America's obesity epidemic, two doctors said in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In an editorial accompanying the latest government research, Dr. Jody Zylke and Dr. Howard Bauchner said, "Obesity prevention must start with women of child-bearing age."
The doctors noted that a mother's weight gain during pregnancy is associated with a baby's weight at birth. And excessive birth weight is linked to childhood obesity, which is likely to lead to obesity in adulthood.
Because parents determine "what and where children eat," they play a pivotal role in their children's weight, "thus prevention has to encompass entire families," Zylke and Bauchner, who are both JAMA editors, wrote.
"Although this approach for preventing obesity may be difficult, it also has great potential. Not only are interventions reaching multiple persons, but parents are often highly motivated to keep their children healthy," the doctors wrote.
The doctors' editorial accompanied news that was "neither good nor surprising" — the latest uptick in obesity among American adults.
As the Associated Press reported, obesity rates for men and women were roughly equivalent until recent years. But now 4 in 10 women are obese, and the percentage of morbidly obese women — those with a body-mass index of 40 or higher — is nearly twice that of men.
Five and a half percent of men are morbidly obese, compared to 9.9 percent of women.
Dana Hunnes, a dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, told the AP’s Mike Stobbe that she found the new numbers for women “scary.”
"It's a really alarming figure, and it's alarming that it's continuing to go up despite government calls to action on weight loss and healthy eating," Hunnes said.
Stobbe’s report said researchers aren’t sure why women are gaining more weight than men, although some experts speculate that “many women are satisfied with a larger body size.”
This may be in part because of a societal trend toward "fat acceptance" and the emergence of the body-positivity movement that encourages people to love their bodies regardless of size.
Although there is debate about whether you can be both fit and fat, the health risks associated with obesity are well documented. The more you weigh, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, numerous studies have shown.
There was some good news in the latest CDC data, however. Although obesity had risen among adults and teens, it had leveled off among children ages 6 to 11, and declined in children ages 2 through 5, the researchers said.