The Magic Number That Could Fix America’s Weight Problem

Dan Kloeffler
What If?
The Magic Number That Could Fix America’s Weight Problem

When it comes to birthday cake etiquette, there are two types of people: those that scrape off the frosting in disgust and those that strategically cut a corner piece for double the sugary surface area. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a lot of us are going for the corners. About 217 million Americans are considered overweight or obese, which is roughly two-thirds of the country.

But fear not, the picture of a bloated America could easily change if we all dropped 20 pounds. Yes, we’re mindful that not everyone could or even should lose 20 - those that are underweight, children and the elderly – but we’re talking about the masses.

And full disclosure, as a kid that was forced to shop in the husky section of Sears, I know all too well the emotional and psychological toll weight can have on someone’s confidence. This is not fat shaming, this is simply a hypothetical situation.

So, what if everyone lost 20 pounds?

First, the average American male weighs a little more than 195 pounds, the average American female, weighs about 166 pounds. Based on these averages, and the CDC’s table for Body Mass Index if average American Joe’s and Jane’s dropped 20 pounds, they would no longer border obesity, but rather border what is considered normal weight.

Ever tried dropping a few pounds? Then you know that 20 can seem like a ton. It’s not, actually. It’s about the weight of a spare tire or a case of beer; interesting to note that one is the namesake for a belly, while the other is often the cause of its existence.

If we did lose 20, white women might find themselves with a little extra cash, according to Dr. John Cawley, economics professor at Cornell University. He examined 30 years of data, collected on a cross-section of the U.S. population. About 70,000 people were observed from different economic situations, educational levels, and races. As the subjects were monitored over three decades, Cawley noticed a pattern among white women; those that were heavier, tended to earn less money. In most cases, the wage difference was between 2.8 percent and 5.6 percent.

Keep in mind, this study did not come to the conclusion that weight gain automatically causes a drop in wages, or that lower wages causes weight gain. However, the observation is worth attention, considering that changing your figure, could change some figures.

But even without pay raise, if we lost 20 pounds, we’d have more money to spend, thanks to saving billions on healthcare costs. According the Cawley’s number crunching, those Americans considered obese spend about $2,700 a year on healthcare, over someone classified as normal weight. If we eliminated these bills by losing 20 pounds, the country as a whole, would save about $190 Billion dollars in healthcare costs associated with obesity.

Now that we’ve dropped a few and saved a bunch, it’s time to shop for some smaller clothes.

For the average American woman, losing 20 pounds is the difference of two sizes. Because designers pull this little trick called, ‘vanity sizing,’ there’s no measurable standard among clothing. What one label considers to be a size 14, another may consider that a 12.

Cathlin Argiro, a designer and professor at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, shared that little tidbit when I asked how big a difference could 20 pounds make for the fashion world. Basically, a lot of designers have been telling us that we’re smaller than we are in actuality, boosting our confidence, pushing us to the register.

With that in mind, the average American woman is either a size 12 or 14. A 20-pound drop, and she suddenly finds herself reaching for an 8 or possibly a 10. Which opens the door for American manufacturers to satisfy this new demand for smaller clothing, beating foreign competition.

Argiro explained that from design sketch to store rack, an American manufacturer can produce a new piece of clothing in about two weeks. It takes twice as long, nearly a month, for a manufacturer overseas to bring something into the stores. Losing 20 pounds could mean a surge in, ‘Made In the U.S.A,’ labels as we rush to fill our closets with slimmer, trimmer duds.

That is, if we can ever leave our bedrooms.

According to Dr. Deepak Chopra, author of ‘Timeless You,’ and the guy that Oprah made famous by introducing his holistic approach to medicine, explained that losing 20 pounds would mean a change in hormone levels. Those changing hormone levels would increase our sexual vitality.

Chopra explained that our bodies are comprised of feedback loops, like thermostats that regulate functions like metabolism and hormone levels.

“When you’re overweight, it disrupts these feedback loops…you’re out of tune with the essence, the fundamental basics of life.”

ABC News' David Fazekas, Stefan Doyno and Maurice Abbate contributed to this episode.