Fat Owners, Fat Pets? Riding the Trend (And What It’ll Take to Buck It)

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“You are what you eat.” It’s one aphorism most of us buy into. So why is it we’re surprised that as we get fatter and our kids get fatter… our pets get fatter, too?

You don't have to play summertime tourist in faraway European capitals to observe the stark physical difference in body type between Americans and the rest of the world’s humans. You don't even have to drive to Disney World. One trip to the local mall and it’s obvious we have a problem.

What’s worse than the malady itself, however, refers back to my opening salvo: Obesity appears to be communicable.

The proof is in the stats: In spite of our growing understanding of the issue and the attention we’ve paid it, the obesity epidemic in humans shows no signs of slowing. In fact, it’s accelerating, pulling our kids and our pets into its whirling vortex of doom.

I know that sounds melodramatic, but it’s more than apropos when you consider the facts the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports on its website:

“During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States and rates remain high. More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese.”

As if things weren’t bad enough already, the stats on the pet front are downright alarming, too. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), obesity is the most common nutritional disorder in our dogs and cats. Then there’s the most recent nationwide survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) to consider. It found that 53 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats were classified by their veterinarian as overweight or obese.

All told, we’re talking about close to 100 million pets!

What’s worse than knowing that we’re sick and getting sicker? The fact that we’re responsible for passing it on to our kids and our pets, too.

Since the very first days of the childhood obesity epidemic the writing was on the wall: It was we who were enabling their illness. After all, children can’t overeat if parents don’t let it happen. Studies confirming the communicability of attitudes (and obesity) from parents to children bring that point home.

So, too goes the pet obesity issue: Who’s controlling the kibble? Who’s in charge of the can opener? So when a UK study found that overweight owners were more likely to have overweight dogs than other dog owners, no one was too surprised. After all, we already know that attitudes towards food and exercise are, to a large extent, responsible for how overweight we are.

Sure, genetics and other non-environmental issues play a role, too. Hence, why plenty of overweight people can manage their pets’ weight just fine, thank you very much. But when it comes to assessing this problem in epidemiological terms, looking at the transmissibility of cultural norms and other environmental factors has been found to be far more relevant than our biology.

Though the environment that's created this condition in humans –– and now in our animals –– is multi-factorial, chaotic, and complex, experts inform us that there are some obvious solutions. Unfortunately, all of them involve changing our collective behavior. Which, in case you’ve missed the gloomy point of this post, doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime too soon.

Yet there is a silver lining. The past few years have seen a huge uptick in awareness on the issue of pet obesity. And maybe –– just maybe –– this will be the key to pulling back on that bottomless bowl of kibble we humans currently can't seem to deny our "fur-kids."