How Obesity Deceives Us

You could say I’ve been living in a bubble. During a recent visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando, I was completely taken aback that the majority of visitors were very overweight. The obesity crisis up close and personal for a naive Coloradan.

Statistics estimate that 69% of American adults are either obese or overweight [1]. But here in Colorado, where only 16.4% of adults are inactive and 21.3% are obese [1], our general population is closer to their ideal body weight. And although I’m a personal trainer, the obesity crisis doesn’t seem as pressing here.

I’m the kind of person who tries to look at people as much more than their appearance. It is not easy for me to talk about people’s weight or bodies; it feels judgmental. But after witnessing the current “average” American in the happiest place on earth, I felt troubled, sad, and compelled to share some thoughts here.

How Obesity Deceives Us (And Why We Must Fight Back)

Truth: Most American Adults are Overweight Or Obese

It occurred to me that carrying a lot of extra weight is perfectly normal and acceptable in many places (particularly in the South, with the highest rates of obesity). When everyone around you is overweight or obese, it doesn’t seem like a major issue – you’re just like everyone else. Evidence even shows that the people you hang out with impact your weight [2].

Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of women are obese or overweight. Apparently, Americans win the world title when it comes to overweight and obese populations – 13% of the global total. However, we only have 5% of the world’s population [3].

(If you want to see how fast we’re able to become obese here in the States, check out this decidedly disturbing graphic (use the slider to see historical changes)).

What About The Kids?

Visiting Disney World, you get a big dose of Cute Kid Overload (and I mean really cute kids). I saw a helluva lot of parents who cared deeply about their children and took care of their every need. On any bus ride to a park or hotel we witnessed beautiful little children resting their sleepy heads on their loving, but large, parents. 

I couldn’t help thinking about the future of these kids and their parents: Will it become common to lose one’s parents prematurely due to preventable diseases like hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea/respiratory problems, and endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon cancers? 

Will these children think it’s normal to become more and more inactive as they age and as a result, less involved with their kids’ (and grandchildrens’) lives?

And finally – and most horribly – are today’s parents modeling unhealthy lifestyle choices to their beloved children, who will no doubt perpetuate obesity in themselves and in following generations?

I think the answers to these questions are pretty obvious – and depressing.

In addition to losing their parents early or becoming unhealthy themselves, today’s children of obese parents may also suffer from social stigmatization and discrimination and low self-image (in places where obesity isn’t the norm anyway).

To put it in perspective, from 1980 to 2013, the number of overweight and obesity in children increased by nearly 50%. The number of overweight children has been slowly declining since 2004, but the rate of childhood obesity remains steady at 13% [4]. How can this stop?

Choices And Behavioral Change

It’s a given that when you’re at a restaurant and don’t have any healthy choices, you eat less and wait for better options. Or that’s how my mind works, anyway.

But I doubt most people choose to eat less when presented with a choice of fried fish or a cheeseburger. When a meal comes with a side of fries it means you should eat it all, not that you should leave them on your plate and find some fruit later.

I was in this situation at several Disney World restaurants. I ate half of the fried, battered shrimp because I was starving and I didn’t touch the fries. For “dessert” I had a Greek yogurt while my family feasted on cake and ice cream. They indulged during the vacation because they can – they eat healthy 80% of the time and don’t have health issues.

As for myself, the thought of putting that junk in my body made me nauseous, even though I’d have to search for healthy food later. And while I indulged in 100% more desserts than I normally do, by day four I was ready to take a bite and leave the rest.

I made these choices not because I’m better or have more willpower than anyone else; I’ve made cognitive and behavioral changes that make this thought process automatic now. I used to be a junky eater myself, and although I didn’t have a weight problem (yet), my food choices were affecting my health and well-being. One reason I started this blog six years ago was to help others improve their lives through clean eating, as I did.

I prioritize maintaining a healthy weight, managing my cholesterol, and educating myself about how to do those things. I’ve also started prioritizing daily activity to help maintain my weight. (That I strength train four times a week is a no-brainer, obviously.)

I may have lived in a bubble before my trip, but most people who continue getting fatter without taking action are in a bubble of their own. I don’t pretend that it’s simple to lose weight or maintain one’s weight, especially as we age. But when you get down to it, how much fat a person carries is about choices and attitudes. Things like:

  • If my social circle and family are all overweight, does that make being overweight alright? 
  • Do I get help if I can’t lose weight on my own? Join a weight-loss group, talk to a dietitian, follow a plan? (Group support is a proven way to be successful.)
  • Do I use exercise as an excuse to eat more?
  • Do I push myself outside my comfort zone and get more regular activity? 
  • Do I love myself enough to take action?
  • Do I give in to feelings of apathy or dig deep and fight for my health and the future of my children?

Obesity Can’t Win

I realize it’s easy for me, a fit person who is knowledgeable about nutrition and fitness, to talk about making choices. It’s true that some people gain weight more easily than others and that certain medical conditions and prescriptions can cause weight gain. But we have to pull out of this “new normal,” beginning with taking personal responsibility and helping each other.

Disney World is a magical place. You’re plunged into total distraction from life, nonstop entertainment, and carefree moments. It’s a chance to refresh and act like a kid for short spurts while you scream and hang on for dear life on gravity-defying rides.

But in real life, our everyday choices have risks and consequences that can shorten or extend our lives. 

Since my trip to Disney World, I’m no longer living in a bubble in the relatively fit state of Colorado. And while obesity affects both adults and children, it’s the kids I just can’t stop thinking about.

This article originally appeared on

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    I ATE up every word of this post… thank goodness it was calorie free! I have just read a book called the The State of Slim… the Colorado Diet…. and when I was in CO last year I saw evidence of the stats you quote about your state for myself.

    It is such a vicious and horrible cycle of overeating JUNK and passing that habit along to our very young children… saddling them with the sad problem of being obese and unhealthy early in their lives.

    I think that where we have a voice and an audience we really need keep telling this story over and over.
    Elle recently posted..How to Overcome Emotional Eating… What are You Really Hungry For?My Profile

    • I also love The State Of Slim and have seen the authors speak here. I’ve used its concepts for my coaching groups too. You’re right that obesity is a vicious cycle and that we MUST to speak out. Tiptoeing around the sensitivity of the subject does no one any good. We need more straightforward real talk to break obesity’s spell. Thanks so much for writing Elle, loved hearing your perspective.

  2. I see the contrast so much when we travel out of the US. When in Europe or China, it becomes much more apparent how overweight most Americans are.

  3. Well written and substantiated. I had a similar experience at the Great Mall of America a few years ago
    kymberly recently posted..Milan: The City of Beautiful DesignMy Profile

  4. You’re right… Obesity can’t win! I don’t really experience this in Canada, but the stats are definitely scary. I’m optimist for the future, though. Science in nutrition is advancing, but on the other hand, food manufacturers are also getting smarter.

    • Oh that’s interesting, I wondered if Canada had similar issues. I’m optimistic too… the rate of obesity has slowly gone down for kids and that’s a good thing :).

  5. Really nice article! I love to being slim. And totally agree with you obesity can’t win. Having a good nutrition and exercising regularly will never let you gain weight. BTW thank you for sharing this!

  6. I also worry about the children of the future. We live in such a fast paced society and the results show with out “Fast Food Nation”. What’s worse is that when educational budgets are being threatened, physical education is one first subjects to be let go. Obesity has spun out of control and I aim to help as many I can live a fitter life. Thanks for sharing this it was a good read for sure.
    Megan Johnson McCullough

    • Big ups to you, Megan, for your commitment to kids. Even if one child gains new habits, knowledge, or motivation, that is success! <3

  7. Great article! It is absolutely all about your mentality.

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