Americans Are Bigger Than Ever

New survey reports that Americans are 20 pounds heavier than two decades ago.
Americans are bigger than ever. Do we have the willpower to reverse the trend? (Photo: Getty Images)
Nov 28, 2011· 1 MIN READ
Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

I'm only just starting to recover from a long weekend of Thanksgiving-induced binging, and a new study is already trying to shame me back into shape.

According to the annual Gallup Health and Healthcare Survey, men are reporting an average weight of 196 pounds while women are reporting an average of 160 pounds, up nearly 20 pounds from self-reported weights in 1990.

As Americans' waistlines continue to expand, so has their ideal weight. Today, men on average say their ideal weight is 181 pounds and women 138 pounds, up from 171 and 129 pounds, respectively, from two decades ago.

The news is just the latest in a series of heavy hitters. To the dismay of parents everywhere, last week Congress voted to count pizza and french fries as vegetables in school cafeterias. And this week a 200-pound 8-year-old in Ohio was reportedly sent to a foster home after social workers deemed his mother medically negligent for her inability to curb his weight. Obesity already costs the U.S. healthcare system a whopping $147 billion a year, and it doesn't look like that number is going south any time soon.

What can be done? Obesity afflicts those closest to poverty, and when it comes to feeding a big family, it's often the least nutritious foods that offer the most calories for the buck. Forward-thinking government policies like the SNAP program and an objective measure of nutritional quality can go a long way towards improving the health of those that are struggling financially. But until we figure out how to make healthy options affordable, the battle of the bulge will always be fought uphill.

There's also the problem of self-perception. Despite the fact that we're getting further and further from our ideal weights, a majority of Americans reported that their weight was "about right," a finding that has stayed consistent over the past 20 years. Although 61.7 percent of us are overweight or obese, according to BMI index, just 39 percent of us are willing to call ourselves that. Maybe it's time for all of us to take a long hard look at the mirror—or the scale—and put the cold stuffing and mashed potatoes back in the fridge.