OGDEN — Over the past decade, Utah’s fat quotient held fairly steady with almost six in 10 adults having enough “love” in their “handles” for that extra weight to be considered unhealthy.
But according to an April 2019 Utah Department of Health report, the news gets worse. Of that group of overweight adults, a growing number kept adding pounds and are now considered obese. In 1999, 32.8 percent were obese, but by 2017 that percentage had climbed to 41.7.
Sadly, that spike in obesity also applies to Utah youth. By 2017, 42 percent of overweight Utah teens crossed the threshold into obesity compared to 38 percent in 1999.
Of course, it’s one thing to no longer fit into those skinny jeans at the back of the closet. But it’s quite another to battle a host of life-threatening diseases due to too much extra poundage. Michael Friedrichs, an epidemiologist with UDOH who compiled the recent study, explained the rising risks associated with obesity.
“This shift is concerning because as individuals move from being classified as overweight to obese, the potential for health threats such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even some cancers increases,” Friedrichs said in a statement. “Being at an unhealthy weight, whether overweight or obese, increases the risk of poor health outcomes but the risk is intensified for people who are obese.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity in adults is defined by the Body Mass Index or BMI, which is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. The CDC offers a convenient calculator to help individuals determine their BMIs.
The CDC lists the following BMI categories:
A BMI less than 18.5 falls within the underweight range.
A BMI 18.5 to less than 25 is considered normal.
A BMI 25 to less than 30 is considered overweight
A BMI 30 or higher indicates obesity.
Obesity can also be subdivided into categories:
Class 1: BMI of 30 to 35
Class 2: BMI of 35 to 40
Class 3: BMI of 40 or higher, which is sometimes categorized as “extreme” or “severe” obesity.
The UDOH report noted a nearly 40 percent higher risk for obese adults to suffer heart attack, stroke and angina than their overweight counterparts. And the prevalence of diabetes more than doubled, from 6.6 percent in overweight adults to 14.2 percent in those considered obese.
Excess body weight can also be a drain on the household budget as trips to the doctor, hospital and pharmacy increase due to deteriorating health.
One man’s metamorphosis
Ogden resident and former Standard-Examiner editor and reporter Doug Gibson managed to successfully escape the clutches of obesity. But his weight gain and ultimate transformation did not happen overnight.
“Around 1993 I lost control of my weight,” Gibson, a former competitive swimmer, said. “And for 20-odd years I would yo-yo diet and my weight would fluctuate between 270 and 305.”
At 6 feet 2 inches tall, Gibson found ways to hide the extra weight, but he acknowledged being very self-conscious about it. And he said his wife had a standing joke that she trusted him with her life, her kids and her security — but not with her food.
Diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, Gibson took a cocktail of prescribed drugs that contributed to his weight gain and inactivity.
But by 2017, Gibson knew it was time to make a change when photos of himself made him cringe.
“I couldn’t stand the way I looked. I felt so depressed by it,” Gibson said.
At that point, Gibson sought the help of a foot zone therapist who advised him to eliminate gluten, soy and dairy products from his diet.
“I haven’t deviated since,” Gibson said. That meant no doughnuts, bread or ice cream. “My sole junk food is (now) tortilla chips.”
That change in food consumption, coupled with amped-up exercise — working out at Foleys Gym in Ogden with his teenage son, swimming laps several mornings per week at Ogden High School, and even fitting in 90-minute jogs — combined to produce a lasting change in Gibson’s health and overall quality of life.
He even surpassed his weight-loss goal of 235 pounds, naturally settling into an even slimmer 215. And his former 46-inch waist pants have been replaced by 34s.
“To lose weight you have to eat differently,” Gibson said. “That’s why I really believe that weight loss is a lifestyle change, not a diet.”
Gibson, now 55, is pleased to no longer have to take blood pressure medication and other prescription drugs he’d used for years.
“I feel like I’m 25 years old again,” Gibson said of his newfound energy and endurance.
But Gibson especially relishes that November day when his doctor told him he couldn’t call him obese anymore.
“I didn’t think it was possible,” Gibson said.