— Frances Traphagan has been battling weight issues her
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.
at 240 pounds, the 5-foot-3 Traphagan chose to have bariatric
surgery at the Hennepin Bariatric Center and Obesity Program
at Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis.
was my very last effort to try to lose weight," she said.
tried everything before that — from Weight Watchers to the
Atkins diet to the grapefruit diet.
did have some success, but nothing was ever permanent,"
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
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.
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.
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.
of that makes you question: Are you on the right track?"
she said. "The data would say no."
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.
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
example of that ripple effect: Collazo-Clavell is starting to
see some of her previous patients’ children and is working
with them to help manage their obesity.
difficult to pinpoint what is causing women to struggle more
with obesity than men, but doctors say there likely are many
factors at play.
typically have two times in their lives when they are at risk
of gaining significant amounts of weight: childbearing (during
pregnancy and after giving birth) and menopause.
hears from many new mothers that they find meal planning and
preparation tough after giving birth. Also of concern, she
notes that women as a group are going into pregnancy heavier
than they were 20 years ago.
it harder to manage a healthy pregnancy weight if they’re
already overweight, she said.
the country’s leading health problems, obesity can lead to
serious diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
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. (Find a calculator here.)
example, a woman of average height in the U.S. (5 feet 4)
would be classified as obese if she weighs at least 175
pounds. An average height American man (5 feet 9) who weighs
203 pounds or more would be considered obese.
Guilford Hartley is medical director of the Hennepin Bariatric
Center and Obesity Program, where 100 surgeries for weight
management are performed each year.
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.
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. The social
pressure if you’re overweight and a woman is higher."
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seeking surgery often have struggled with a weight problem for
a long time.
by the time I see them, most of them get here saying, ‘I’ve
done this all my life. This is my sixth yo-yo,’" he
the recent CDC report on obesity rates concerning. "Up
until these reports, it was looking as if the so-called
obesity epidemic was kind of plateauing."
analyzing the new data, Hartley and Collazo-Clavell point to
societal changes that have led people to become more
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.
"We have engineered … physical activity out of our
workplace and out of our home place."
prescription of "eat less and exercise more" does
not address the kind of vigorous activity needed to tip the
we tell them to exercise more, we mean get on a treadmill for
an hour, three days a week," he said. "And the kind
of exercise that it takes to have a significant impact on
weight is more like if you’re a hardscrabble farmer and you’re
working up a sweat for eight hours a day just to put food on
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been 10 years since Traphagan had a surgical band wrapped
around her stomach to make it smaller. The band makes it
possible to consume only 1.5 cups of food at a time. But it’s
still possible to overeat, she said, which is why she had to
learn how to eat healthfully to control her weight.
she has poached eggs instead of doughnuts for breakfast and
drinks plenty of ice water throughout the day. She has
maintained a healthy weight.
been real hard, though. It’s not easy," she said.
got down to 155 pounds. My goal weight is 124. I’m still
working on that, and I hope to achieve that this year."
Associated Press contributed to this report.
percent: Portion of women in a 2013-14 study who would be
pounds: Weight at which a woman of average height in the U.S.
(5 feet 4) would be considered obese.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, JAMA