It costs hundreds of billions of dollars each year and leads to deadly chronic diseases. But who is to blame for the US' obesity epidemic?

In the next 18 years the number of obese people in the US is expected to rise to 42 per cent of the adult population.

"By focusing on obesity we're blaming fat people for a food environment that is not their fault, it is the fault of corporate control of the food supply, of government policies … we really need to stop this blaming and shaming and making fat people up as the victims...."

- Michele Simon, the author of Appetite for Profit

That means about 32 million more Americans will become obese by 2030 compared to current levels.

The latest projection released this week by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention also says that 11 per cent will be severely obese - that is 45 kilogrammes overweight.

It is a public health epidemic that is costing nearly $150bn in healthcare every year.

According to the National Institute of Health, being overweight and obese is the second leading cause of preventable death in the US.

On Tuesday, the Institute of Medicine (IoM) released a report that rejects the idea that obesity is largely the result of a lack of willpower and personal responsibility.

The report recommends a pivotal role for schools in obesity prevention. It wants schools to ensure quality physical activity and awareness of nutritional standards among children.

The IoM panel says taxing sugar-sweetened beverages should be an option, noting that their link to obesity is stronger than that of any other food or beverage.

Institute of Medicine proposals:

  • Obesity is not a result of lack of willpower
  • Dramatic measures are needed for change
  • Lawmakers and food industry to blame for obesity epidemic, also US farm policy
  • US has an 'obesity-promoting environment', an 'average person' cannot maintain a healthy weight
  • Recommends schools be the focus for anti-obesity efforts
  • Employers and insurers should do more to combat obesity

"We live in an affluent society where parents give their kids money … it's their decision to give kids money. Parents are responsible for sheltering their kids, feeding them, housing them, loving them and advising them."

- Baylen Linnekin, the executive director of Keep Food Legal

The report also calls for doctors to play a more aggressive role. And employers have been urged to promote healthy eating and offer obesity-related health coverage.

So who is to blame for the problem? Do the IoM's recommendations go far enough? And is it time to re-examine the framework when dealing with the issue of obesity?

To discuss this on Inside Story Americas with presenter Shihab Rattansi are guests: Michele Simon, the author of Appetite for Profit: How the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back; Baylen Linnekin, the executive director of Keep Food Legal, an organisation that advocates against government food regulation; and Barbara Moore, the president of Shape UP America!, a national campaign to raise awareness about obesity as a health issue.

Click here to watch Fault Lines: Fast food, fat profits - an investigation into obesity in the US and those who are fighting back.

"Obesity is caused by a perfect storm of a multiplicity of factors and no one factor is going to be entirely responsible for this problem … personal choice and responsibility does play a part but a part of many other factors."

Barbara Moore, the president of Shape UP America!


  • Over 42 per cent of adult Americans will be obese in 2030
  • About 35.7 per cent of the adult American population suffers from obesity now
  • Percentage of severely obese to double between 2010 and 2030, growing from five per cent to 11 per cent by 2030
  • Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest obesity rates at 44.1 per cent
  • Treating additional obese people to cost $550bn over 20 years
  • Medical-related costs of obesity estimated at $147bn a year
  • Obesity costs account for about nine per cent of annual medical costs
  • At least 30 per cent of the populace is obese in most US southern states - Mississippi has the highest rate at 34 per cent
  • The western US has the lowest obesity rates, with Colorado at 21 per cent


  • The industry is worth about $1.5 trillion annually
  • About $175m has been spent on lobbying since 2009, including an effort to defeat proposed sugary-drinks tax that was led by Coca-Cola and Pepsi
  • Lobbyists spent more than $40m to defeat the sugary-drink tax - they defeated the soda tax initiatives in 23 US states
  • The industry spent close to $1m fighting school menu changes
  • In US schools, tomato sauce on pizza is counted as a vegetable
  • In 2011 McDonald's Corp spent over $1.5m on lobbying efforts, Nestle spent close to $4m

Source: Al Jazeera