Fat Chance: The numbers bear out the First Lady’s call for fitness

First Lady Michelle Obama targets childhood obesity

I’m a data guru, not a diet expert. But since First Lady Michelle Obama launched her “Let’s Move” initiative to address childhood obesity, I decided to see what the numbers have to say about America’s fitness. I looked into my crystal ball, which, for us data geeks, is the Statistical Abstract of the United States. It’s been published annually since 1878, and is chock full of information, ranging from “accidents” to “zinc.” 

What I found was tons of information about how our nation tips the scales:

  • Out of our total population of Americans 18 years and over, 32.9%  are overweight  and 32.6% are obese
  • 60% of 18-44 year olds are above a healthy weight (30.3% obese)
  • 73% of 45-64 year olds are above a healthy weight (38.4% obese)
  • 74% of 65-74 year olds are above a healthy weight (34.8% obese)
  • White females are the only race/ethnic/gender group to have an unhealthy weight below 70%

You can’t turn on the TV without seeing an ad for a weight loss pill, a new foolproof diet or a gadget that makes you lose weight even while eating. But we all know that the main contributors to weight gain or loss are exercise and food intake.  How do we shape up when it comes to those factors? 

People tend to put themselves in a good light when asked about exercise. Still, when we look at the National Health Interview Survey, there’s still a problem.

  • 39% of all adults report “no leisure time physical activity”
  • 34% (18-44 years); 39% (45-64 years); 48% (65-74 years)
  • Exercise increases as educational attainment increases.  Sixty-four percent of those without a high school degree report “no leisure time physical activity.” Among high school graduates, 47 % report no activity, 35 % of those with some college or an associate degree and 23 % of those with at least an undergraduate degree report no activity.

If the First Lady wants to end obesity, she’s got her work cut out for her far into the future. Based on responses from high school students in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, only about a third met “currently recommended levels of physical activity.”  However, 25% used computers 3 or more hours a day and 35% watched 3 or more hours of television a day.  When you add phone calls, texting, etc., who has time for exercise? 

Finally, we look at our food intake over the years.

  • Per capita consumption of red meat has dropped from 126 pounds in 1980 to 111 pounds in 2007
  • Per capita consumption of carbonated soft drinks has increased from 33.6 gallons in 1980 to 48.8 gallons  in 2007
  • Per capita consumption of milk has dropped from 27.9 gallons in 1980 to 22.0 gallons in 2007
  • Per capita consumption of cheese has increased from 17.5  pounds in 1980 to 32.7  pounds in 2007
  • Per capita consumption of total fat has increased from 56.9 pounds in 1980 to 84.9 pounds in 2007

I guess you don’t have to be a Data Guru to see that, unless things change drastically, there’s a fat chance that the overall health of Americans will improve anytime soon.