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Half of All American Adults Could Be Obese in 10 Years, Study Finds

Health + Wellness
Half of All American Adults Could Be Obese in 10 Years, Study Finds
Obesity poses a number of issues for public health. SIphotography / iStock / Getty Images Plus

One of America's already widespread health issues is projected to worsen over the next decade, as new research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that almost half the adult population in the U.S. will be obese by 2030.


Obesity poses a number of issues for public health, as it increases risk for heart disease, diabetes and several cancers, among others, the Associated Press reported, and has driven up healthcare costs 29 percent since 2001, according to a Cornell University study in 2018.

According to a study of more than 6 million Americans published in the New England Journal of Medicine, obesity rates will increase to at least 35 percent in every state and 49 percent of the entire adult population will have a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 by the end of the decade. That's compared to 2015-2016 estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that 40 percent of American adults were obese.

For the study, the researchers used self-reported BMI data from 6.27 million Americans who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey between 1993 and 2016.

BMI is a widely accepted measure of health because it considers one's weight relative to height, but Ward told NBC News that people often overestimate their height and underestimate how much they weigh. To account for this, the researchers compared the responses with height and weight data from a separate survey that relied on actual measurements taken by professionals, Newsweek reported.

Some parts of the country will be affected more than others, the researchers found. In 29 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, researchers projected that more than 50 percent of the population will be obese, CNN reported.

Worse still, nearly one quarter of adults will be more than 100 pounds overweight with a BMI over 35, which is the threshold for "severe obesity." Women, African Americans and Americans with low income status will be most at risk of becoming severely obese, the study found.

"That used to be pretty rare," lead author Zachary Ward, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University, told NBC News. "But we're finding that it's quickly becoming the most common BMI category in those subgroups."

It may seem counterintuitive that low-income adults who are less able to afford food tend to weigh more. But according to CNN, there has been an influx of sugary drinks and processed foods into the American diet, and the price of these unhealthy foods has decreased over time.

Global data supports these findings, as a new report published in The Lancet by the World Health Organization found that one third of the world's poorest countries have high levels of both obesity and malnourishment. Experts behind the report pointed to easier access to unhealthy processed foods, poor diets that lead to underdevelopment and people exercising less as drivers, BBC News reported.

Ward and the authors of the Harvard study believe their findings should be a wakeup call to health policymakers and drive conversation around limiting how unhealthy foods are advertised, nutrition standards and creating taxes on sugary drink — interventions the researchers have previously found to be effective.

"What is clear is that we will not be able to treat our way out of this epidemic — achieving and maintaining weight loss is difficult — so prevention efforts will be key to making progress in this area," Ward told Newsweek.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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