People have long been eager to believe that their ethnic group, region, city, or income bracket is immune to serious problems of obesity. There was a point in time when I agreed with this sentiment, thinking that the national obesity crisis was driven strictly by money and class. If you were an immigrant or poor, or both, you were a "leftover" who lacked the means to afford a healthier lifestyle. If you were affluent you could easily pay for a healthy diet. But I was wrong, and this theory was far too provincial in its premise. Like many diseases, those related to bad diets and obesity are starkly ecumenical and apolitical in whom they attack. If you take a look at the long lines in the waiting room in a standard dialysis unit of any hospital, amid the grim faces you'll see the mosaic of the American populace. Old and, yes, young, Caucasian and every other color of skin you can imagine. The people I'm describing defy categorization by demographic or ethnic origin.
What's really alarming is how we're mortgaging our future in the health care crisis. Obesity, especially among children, is one of the prime causes of future health problems and high mortality rates. One in three children born at the turn of the twenty-first century are expected to become diabetics at some point in their life, and half the black and Latino children are expected to be afflicted. David Ludwig, the head of the obesity program at Children's Hospital in Boston, warned, "If the current epidemic of child and adolescent obesity continues unabated, life expectancy could be shortened by two to five years in the coming decades."
In support of this point, the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control released some revealing data in 2005. Even though the overweight percentage among African American adults showed them to be among the highest-risk group according to rate, the raw numbers are greater among non- Hispanic whites. Some 14 million blacks were overweight or obese; 14.5 million Hispanics; and a whopping 77 million non-Hispanic whites. And while obesity rates do tend to be higher for lower income groups, surprisingly, the highest growth rate is in the highest income bracket. If you're well off, you're far more likely to become fat faster than any other economic segment out there. In other words, money alone will not buy your way out of risk.