UMN Experts: U.S. obesity rate rises dramatically

Jamie Stang. Simone French. Mary Christoph.

A recent study in JAMA showed that obesity rose sharply in the U.S. between 2007-2008 and 2015-2016. In that time period, the percentage of American adults who are obese went from 33.7 percent to 40 percent, and the percentage of adults with severe obesity increased from 5.7 percent to 7.7 percent. Among U.S. children and adolescents, almost 1 in 5 are obese.

These numbers are harbingers of a rise in chronic diseases — the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S.— which include heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, conditions all linked to obesity.

University of Minnesota experts at the School of Public Health Simone French, Jamie Stang, and Mary Christoph give insight into new avenues of obesity prevention, maternal transmission of obesity and chronic disease risk, and the use of nutrition labels to encourage healthier eating.

Simone French, Ph.D.

“The obesity alarm has been sounding since the 1980s and is only getting louder. Obesity has become an invisible health risk because it is so pervasive and impervious to public health warnings, mass media attention, and educational efforts.

“Obesity prevention at the individual level consists of an ongoing flow of continuous decisions about when, what, and how much to eat or drink, and whether and how to move our bodies.  Some of us have different or more choices than others. We could create microenvironments so that healthy food choices and opportunities to move our bodies more become possible for all people (not just privileged people) in the typical course of a day.”

Simone French, Ph.D., is a professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and a member of the Obesity Prevention Center and Masonic Cancer Center. Her research focuses on obesity prevention interventions that target children and adults in their natural settings, such as home, work, schools, and neighborhoods.

Contact information:
Simone French
612-626-8594 (office)

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Jamie Stang, Ph.D.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that infants born to obese mothers may exhibit accelerated growth during early childhood and may have a higher lifetime risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This maternal transmission of obesity and chronic disease risk means that to truly prevent future obesity, we need to take a multi-generational approach, starting prior to conception.

“For mothers, obesity prior to pregnancy increases the risk for excessive gestational weight gain, postpartum weight retention, and prenatal or postpartum depression. Women who are obese prior to pregnancy are significantly more likely to develop gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and their infants are at higher risk for preterm birth and infant mortality.”     

Jamie Stang, Ph.D., is a associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. Her  research includes nutrition and weight status in pregnancy, child and adolescent nutrition, behavioral counseling in child obesity, and obesity among women of childbearing age.

Contact information:
Jamie Stang       
612-626-0351 (office)

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Mary Christoph, Ph.D.

“It is critical to design programs and policies to improve health behaviors rather than exclusively focus on weight status, like obesity, because of potential unintended consequences for individuals at risk from eating disorders. Physical activity and nutrition are associated with health outcomes independent of weight status, and present more achievable targets for interventions.

“In a recent study, we found that young adults who used nutrition labels showed an overall better dietary pattern compared to young adults who did not use them. However, only about a third of the young adults used labels regularly, suggesting that we could do a better job of motivating label use and providing a simple, easy-to-read format. Promoting nutrition and nutrition label use, by themselves, are unlikely to reverse our current obesity rates, but it is crucial to provide actionable information to consumers, and promote healthier diets overall.”

Mary Christoph, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and the Department of Pediatrics. Her research focuses on nutrition behaviors and dietary patterns among adolescents transitioning to young adulthood.

Contact information:
Mary Christoph   
336-264-7219 (cell)

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