Startling Evolution of American Obesity

Watch the Startling Evolution of American Obesity

Animating the nation’s expanding waistline over the past three decades.


•Aug 18, 2015

The United States isn’t the world’s fattest country—that distinction goes to Tonga—but it’s up there, with two-thirds of its adults classified as overweight or obese.

But it didn’t used to be so heavy, as evidenced in this animated map from Metrocosm’s Max Galka (the same guy behind that fascinating visualization ofUFO sightings). Using state data from the CDC, Galka shows how trends in obesity (having a BMI equal to or above 30) have shot up since the mid-1980s. Regional patterns shift through time, but basically the entire country has experienced a major, belt-loosening expansion—look for the South frequently leading the charge, perhaps influenced by its heart-hammering cuisine.

What’s to blame for the big broadening? “The USDA keeps promoting the ‘calories in, calories out’ model, which makes the solution to obesity seem simple: eat less/exercise more,” emails Galka. “However, there is now a lot of research showing this model to be false.” He cites evidence linking obesity toviruses, bacteria, and hormone-altering chemicals. Of course, there’s also the global boom in cheap, shrewdly marketed junk foods.

“The obvious culprit is processed starches, which pretty much everyone is aware of now,” Galka says. “But there may be other contributing factors, too, some of which sound pretty crazy.” (It doesn’t help, he adds, “that the sugar industry keeps promoting bad science.”)

Nowadays the average 5-foot-8 American man weighs 196 pounds with a 40-inch waist; a 5-foot-3 woman is typically 166 pounds with a 38-inch waist,according to the CDC. Galka has put those proportions in historical context with a couple other illustrations. The first is this comparison of weights by sex from 1960 to the near-present. “The average woman today weighs as much as the average man in 1960,” writes Galka:

“Today’s size 0 dress is larger than a size 8 in 1958,” he writes by way of introducing these charts of waist-and-bust sizes:

Galka’s also made a tool revealing how differently built people have put on weight over the years. Shown here is the average 5-foot-9, early-30s guy going from 170 to more than 190 pounds since the 1980s. Head over to Metrocosm to check your own population segment:

5 Replies

  • Problem faced by American population is basically economy related than with knowledge or any other factor.With rising income levels people are more dependent on eating out mostly processed,calorie rich foods and easy to cook off the shelf foods.The problem is compounded by the fact that they have about 12 million illegal immigrants who do all the work involving physical exercise like gardening,agriculture,construction,road building etc.Americans just do not like doing such work as these sectors pay very low wages.The only exercise they get is by going to the gym or sports for which many are not inclined and may not have time.Ideal situation would be that one eats slightly less than what one needs,but in the case of of Americans ,they eat lot more than what they need .Food is cheap and abundant for them.

  • American outdoor recreation industry is six times the size of Indian tourism industry, despite one third the population of India.

    (1) Americans spend nearly as much on Snow Sports ($53 billion) as they do on Internet access ($54 billion).

    (2) Americans spend more on bicycling gear and trips ($ 81 billion) than they

    do on airplane tickets and fees ($51 billion).

    (3) More Americans jobs depend on Trail Sports (768,000) than there are lawyers (728,200) in the U.S.

    (4) Just a shade below 60% Americans are still cooking at home 5 days a week.

    The outdoor recreation economy grew approximately 5 percent annually between 2005 and 2011 – this during an economic recession when many sectors contracted. That is, Americans were still moving (not sedentary), despite recession, and they were cooking more and more at home to save.

    Mexico has overtken America in Obesity race, even as they battle hunger and malnutrition:

    You can't have obese parents and malnoursihed children in same family and this is what Gary Taube also pointed out in his award winning book based on half a decade of research on Obesity. This has nothing to do with calorie in calorie out. It has more to do with something else which authorities are not looking at PURPOSEFULLY as that will damage few sectors of Industry (including drug) pretty hard.

    So this theory of rich and abundant food, sedentary lifestyle etc causing obesity is out of place entirely. It's a cover up for the real problem which lies elsewhere and which will never be addressed as there's lot f money to be made in keeping sick. Real problem is the so called Food Pyramid (now the Plate) -- LOW FAT Theory! Pyramid failed, so will the plate.

  • Ramana42

    The author cites evidence linking obesity to viruses, bacteria, and hormone-altering chemicals and junk food.What are your cmments on this?

  • No doubt all these factors contribute for the obesity epidemic.The more we remove our self from naturally occuring foods and depend more and more on foods that go through complicated processes and in the process get stuffed with artificial chemical agents,we are weakening our system to cope with the problems of our daily routine body functions.Add overeating with enormous portion sizes and sedentary life styles,we are inviting a recipe for disaster.Most western websites that I visit regularly discuss subjects like portion sizes,what to avoid in a restaurant,which processed foods to avoid,various types of exercises etc.Obesity,and more particularly childhood obesity has become a no.1 problem for them

  • Obesity has an alarming proportions in U.S. And people in other countries are not far behind. Reasons are varied which is hardly touched. And mostly waist line is emphasised .

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