The United States may lead the world in military and economic power, as well as cultural influence, but we’re also “Number One” in another category: no nation on earth possesses so many citizens who qualify as obese.
According to new figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an alarming 38 percent of all Americans above age 15 meet medical standards of obesity–not merely overweight, or carrying a few extra pounds, but heavy enough to face serious health consequences.
The U.S. stands at nearly twice the OECD average in obesity rates, and some ten times the rate of world leader, Japan. Korea, Canada, Poland, Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom and 38 other countries also do much better than the United States. Only Mexico joins us in an adult obesity rate that exceeds 30%, and that approaches (but doesn’t equal) our own. Not surprisingly, obesity rates closely correlate with poverty: poor and uneducated people are twice as likely to be obese, and obese people are far more likely to stay poor.
There’s no quick governmental fix for this crisis, which highlights the need for individual initiative and accountability to begin tackling private problems with a big public impact. America’s obesity problem re-enforces the timeless truth in a brilliant couplet written by Dr. Samuel Johnson 300 years ago: “How small, of all that human hearts endure,/That part which laws and kings can cause or cure.”