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Tipping the scale

A report released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reveals that a whopping 34 percent of Americans are considered obese, compared to the 32.7 percent who are classified as overweight.

Statistics show that the population of overweight individuals has reached a plateau, but obesity levels have more than doubled since 1980.

The research concludes that more than one-third of adults were documented as being obese between 2005 and 2006 — the most current statistics available — and more than half of the adult American population is over what is considered a healthy body weight.

Growing obesity levels come as no shock to William Sacco, professor and associate chair for the Department of Psychology.

“It is due to an increase in the number of calories consumed combined with a reduction in physical activity. It is really that simple,” Sacco said.

Little research has been conducted on campus to discover if obesity levels are on the rise at USF, but approximately 15 percent of the USF student population is considered obese, Sacco said.

Obesity is calculated by using an individual’s body mass index (BMI). According to the NCHS, BMI can be calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his or her height in meters squared. A BMI ranging from 25-29 categorizes the individual as overweight. Obesity is classified by a BMI of 30-40 and morbidly obese individuals have a BMI over 40.

Increased obesity levels are more likely to be the result of environmental factors rather than genetics, said psychology professor Kevin Thompson.

“Influences are reduced physical activity, increased consumption of fast foods and foods away from the home and an increase in the size of meal portions in restaurants,” Thompson said.

People are also spending more time in front of the television and computer rather than being active, Sacco said.

“This problem is especially troubling for our children,” Sacco said. “A recent study indicates that approximately 20 percent of American 4-year-olds are obese.”

Healthy lifestyles need to begin at a young age to ingrain healthy eating and exercise habits. Schools should enforce better physical fitness programs for children from elementary to high school, Thompson said.

Facilities that promote a safer exercise environment, such as parks, trails and bike paths, could also encourage a more active lifestyle for children, Thompson said.

The obese population faces the threat of numerous heath risks including diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, sleep apnea and other conditions, Sacco and Thompson both said.

Options are available to improve the health of obese individuals ranging from surgery to psychological treatment, Thompson said.

The most proactive way to conquer obesity is to lead a more active lifestyle and consume fewer calories, Sacco said. Cutting calories can be accomplished by eating smaller low-calorie portions less frequently, he said.

A tremendous amount of research and awareness has been dedicated to the study of obesity, but its future is difficult to predict, Thompson said.

“It will probably take quite a few years for our culture to establish the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce the overall obesity rate,” Sacco said.

He said he expects the rising obesity rates to level off eventually, but obesity will remain a concern until rates actually begin to show a decline.

“Each person must adopt strategies that they can incorporate into their lifestyle. These strategies must become a lifelong habit,” Sacco said.

To calculate your BMI, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s online BMI calculator at