The results of President Trump’s annual physical exam are in: He is obese. He also has elevated cholesterol and evidence of heart disease. Of course, the president is not alone. His health is a symptom of the national health emergency touching almost every American.
More than 93.3 million adults (almost 40 percent of the population) in the United States have weight in the obese range. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States, and the American Heart Association’s Heart and Stroke Statistics – 2019 Update finds that 48 percent (121.5 million) of all adults in the United States have some type of cardiovascular disease.
The two conditions often go hand in hand. Obese and overweight people live shorter lives and live with more chronic diseases, including heart disease, according to a study published in JAMA Cardiology. Those with BMIs higher than 24.9 (the president’s is now 30.4) increased their risk for heart disease, developed heart disease earlier in life, and were more likely to die from a cardiovascular event.
But heart disease is just one of more than a dozen chronic diseases associated with obesity. Having a BMI greater than or equal to 30 is linked to type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, mental illness such as clinical depression and anxiety, body pain, and difficulty with physical functioning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
And tragically, these diseases are also affecting people at a younger age as childhood obesity continues to skyrocket. Research published in the journal Circulation found that obese children show evidence of significant heart disease as young as age 8. And earlier this month, a study published in The Lancet found that six obesity-related cancers—multiple myeloma, colorectal, uterine, gallbladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancer—are on the rise in young adults with steeper rises in successively younger generations.
Besides the chronic disability and decrease in quality of life these chronic diseases bring to those who suffer from them, there is a tremendous economic impact on our society. This is the real national emergency. In 2017, total health care costs in the United States have risen to 3.5 trillion dollars and are expected to continue to climb over the coming years. Yet the CDC estimates that 90 percent of those dollars were spent on the treatment of chronic disease, many of which are preventable. Furthermore, the CDC estimates that eliminating just three risk factors—poor diet, inactivity, and smoking—would markedly reduce death rates from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
As stated above, one of the major causes of these problems are unhealthful food choices—such as the president’s fondness of meaty, cheesy fast-food. And it doesn’t help that he encourages others to eat it. In fact, the White House recently served the Clemson Tigers, who won this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship, an artery-clogging line-up of burgers and pizza from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Domino’s.
A study published in the journal Circulation found that people who eat fast food once a week increase their risk of dying from heart disease by 20 percent. Two to three fast-food meals a week increase the risk of premature death by 50 percent. Four or more fast-food meals a week increase the risk of dying from heart disease by nearly 80 percent.
Ditching meat and dairy products could do wonders for the health of all Americans. A scientific review my colleagues published last year found that a plant-based diet causes weight loss, reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 40 percent, and fully or partially opens blocked arteries in up to 91 percent of patients. A healthy diet and lifestyle can also reduce the risk for a heart attack by 81-94 percent, while medications can only reduce the risk by 20-30 percent.
If more Americans, including those in leadership positions, adopted and promoted a plant-based diet, it could potentially markedly reduce the prevalence of many chronic diseases and their associated health care costs, helping the United States address its ongoing national health emergency.