American obesity epidemic sparks specialized medical careers

Obesity statistics in America are alarming. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 36.5% of American adults are obese and the annual medical cost of obesity is estimated at $147 billion U.S. dollars in 2008.

The Harvard School of Public Health reports that “more children and adolescents are becoming overweight at younger ages”. In fact, “one out of six children and adolescents, ages 2 – 19 are obese and one out of three are overweight or obese”. Obesity is a serious condition that can lead to life-threatening health problems, including high blood pressure, sleep apnea, heart disease, cancer, and gallstones. Alarming indeed.

How did we get so heavy?

While some weight problems can be due to one’s metabolism or genetics, illnesses such as Cushing’s disease and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or certain medications, some are related to other factors such as one’s food/diet choices environment and overall lifestyle. After all, the average American lifestyle has changed dramatically over the last few decades.

  • Many labor-intensive jobs have given way to less-so occupations: We have become a society of sitting. We spend hours sitting in cars to get to our jobs where we spend our days sitting at desks.
  • Food is everywhere: Easily accessible food and drinks are more available today than ever before. We can find food virtually everywhere we go, at fast food restaurants and drive-through windows, inside gas stations, at movies, sporting events, in pharmacies, in department stores, improvement stores, the list goes on. Additionally, we no longer even have to leave the house to get food. One phone call or a tap of an app can get food delivered right to your door.
  • Leaving the house is optional: Today we shop online, pay bills online, apply for jobs online, bank online, do research online, and make purchases online. We don’t have to walk to the library or the bank or even the grocery store anymore.
  • Sedentary lifestyles: Not that long ago, families would spend days outside riding bikes, playing ball, walking in the park, hiking in the woods. All that has changed since the invention of video games and other forms of streaming entertainment that are always easily within reach.  
  • Portion control: if you’ve ever had dinner at your grandmother’s house, you might notice the dinner plate size is significantly smaller than the dinner plates you have at home. Moreover, you will see that same dining expansion in most restaurants today, where super-sized, all-you-can-eat, tremendously sized food portions are the norm and usually well more than one person should consume.

New Career Opportunities To Fight Obesity

Of course, the best cure for obesity is prevention. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, getting regular check-ups and reducing stress, along with other healthy lifestyle factors, can help to prevent obesity.

With the rise in obesity has come an increase in specialized medical procedures and professions with many people now working in specialized careers to help with weight management and obesity.

From obesity epidemiology to public health nutrition, and from working directly with obese individuals to working in a large health organization, the obesity epidemic has created a number of new opportunities for medical students interested in working in this field.

  • Obesity Epidemiology & Prevention: This role typically develops preventative programs or initiatives.
  • Research Scientist/Obesity Prevention: These positions involve designing and developing obesity research plans and methodologies.
  • Outcomes Researcher: Measure current programs against statistical data to measure a program’s effectiveness.
  • Obesity Communication Specialist: Works with the public and media outlets to provide the most current information about obesity and lifestyle initiatives.
  • Obesity Prevention Coordinator: Educates individuals or groups about obesity prevention.
  • Bariatrician: Performs pre-op medical screening, post-op follow-up and works directly with bariatric surgeons.
  • Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian: Educates the public and/or individuals to create healthy meal plans.
  • Nutrition Public Relations Professional: Usually hired by companies to assist in nutritional understanding of company’s products.
  • Health & Wellness Manager: Analyze public health issues and create community programs.
  • Program Analyst: Analyze programs and build models and tools to understand the effectiveness of existing programs.
  • Obesity Policy Advisor: Advises policies for specific initiatives.
  • Obesity Grant Manager: Works to obtain research grants for government agencies and non-profits.
  • Fitness Instructor: Teaches people the proper means of exercise to improve fitness, strength, and stamina.
  • Weight Management Counselor: One who guides individuals towards healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle.

These careers will require medical training, some basic, some more intensive. More information about obesity and the career opportunities you might pursue to help enhance the quality of life for obesity patients and help to curb the epidemic be found here.