Frances Traphagan has been battling weight issues her whole life.
For years, the south Minneapolis mom struggled to balance work demands and motherhood. After every pregnancy, her weight problem grew. Her habit of eating on the run also tipped the scales in the wrong direction.
Finally, at 240 pounds, the 5-foot-3 Traphagan chose to have bariatric surgery.
“It was my very last effort to try to lose weight,” she said.
She’d tried everything before that — from Weight Watchers to the Atkins diet to the grapefruit diet.
“I did have some success, but nothing was ever permanent,” she said.
After a national report this summer showed that women have surpassed men in obesity rates, doctors and obesity researchers are searching for answers to why women are struggling more than men.
FIGURE TOPS 40%
For the first time, more than 40 percent of U.S. women are obese, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The nation as a whole continues to struggle with obesity, with 35 percent of men considered obese. But while men’s obesity rates appear to have stabilized, women’s are still rising, the CDC report shows.
Dr. Maria Collazo-Clavell, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic who works with overweight and obese patients, has been working in the obesity research field for 20 years. She said the recent findings give her pause about whether public health officials are taking the right approach to tackling obesity.
“All of that makes you question: Are you on the right track?” she said. “The data would say no.”
That so many women are obese is cause for alarm not only because of the increased health risks for them but also for those around them, Collazo-Clavell said.
“That’s kind of the tip of the iceberg,” she said. Women are often the primary caregivers in a family, and their eating and activity habits can influence their children and others in their family.
One of the country’s leading health problems, obesity can lead to serious diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
WHAT’S YOUR BMI?
Body mass index (BMI) is calculated by dividing weight (in kilograms) by height squared (in centimeters). Anyone with a BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight, while those with a BMI of 30 or more are obese.
For example, a woman of average height in the U.S. (5 foot 4) would be classified as obese if she weighs at least 175 pounds. An average height American man (5 foot 9) who weighs 203 pounds or more would be considered obese.
Dr. Guilford Hartley is medical director of the Hennepin Bariatric Center and Obesity Program, where 100 surgeries for weight management are performed each year.
He sees many more female patients than men. Part of the reason, he said, is that women are more likely to seek medical treatment for a weight issue than men.
“In our culture, when a man’s overweight, nobody pays too much attention,” he said. “But we have such an emphasis on being thin for women that we’re culturally forcing women to be more concerned about their weight than men. ”
In analyzing the new data, Hartley and Collazo-Clavell point to societal changes that have led people to become more sedentary.
“If you were a clerical person, 20 years ago you’d have to get up and put the piece of paper in the file cabinet. Now you never have to get up off your chair,” Hartley said.
The prescription of “eat less and exercise more” does not address the kind of vigorous activity needed to tip the scales.
“When we tell them to exercise more, we mean get on a treadmill for an hour, three days a week,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.