October 29, 1999
increases dramatically in the United States:
calls for national prevention effort
Atlanta, GA (SafetyAlerts) - A growing obesity epidemic
is threatening the health of millions of Americans in the United States, according to CDC
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) research published in the October 27, 1999,
issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
According to the findings, the obesity epidemic
spread rapidly during the 1990s across all states, regions, and demographic groups in the
United States. Obesity (defined as being over 30 percent above ideal body weight) in the
population increased from 12 percent in 1991 to 17.9 percent in 1998. The highest increase
occurred among the youngest ages (18- to 29-year-olds), people with some college
education, and people of Hispanic ethnicity. By region, the largest increases were seen in
the South with a 67% increase in the number of obese people. Georgia had the largest
increase--101%. The findings also show that a major contributor to obesity -- physical
inactivity-- has not changed substantially between 1991 and 1998.
"Overweight and physical inactivity account
for more than 300,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S., second only to
tobacco-related deaths. Obesity is an epidemic and should be taken as seriously as any
infectious disease epidemic, " says Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the CDC, and one
of the authors of the JAMA article. "Obesity and overweight are linked to the
nation's number one killer--heart disease-- as well as diabetes and other chronic
A national effort is needed to control the
epidemic, according to Koplan.
"While obese individuals need to reduce their
caloric intake and increase their physical activity, many others must play a role to help
these individuals and to prevent a further increase in obesity," Koplan says.
"Health care providers must counsel their obese patients; workplaces must offer
healthy food choices in their cafeterias and provide opportunities for employees to be
physically active on site; schools must offer more physical education that encourages
lifelong physical activity; urban policymakers must provide more sidewalks, bike paths,
and other alternatives to cars; and parents need to reduce their children's TV and
computer time and encourage outdoor play. In general, restoring physical activity to our
daily routines is critical."
According to surveys conducted in 1977-78 and
1994-96, reported daily caloric intakes increased from 2239 Kcal to 2455 Kcal (calories)
in men, and from 1534 Kcal to 1646 Kcal in women. Eating more frequently is encouraged by
innumerable environmental changes: more food and foods with higher caloric content, the
growth of the fast food industry, the increased numbers and marketing of snack foods,
increased time for socializing, and a custom of socializing with food and drink.
At the same time, there are fewer opportunities in
daily life to burn calories: children watch more television daily; many schools have done
away with or cut back on physical education; many neighborhoods lack sidewalks for safe
walking; the workplace has become increasingly automated; household chores are assisted by
labor-saving machinery; and walking and cycling have been replaced by automobile travel
for all but the shortest distances.
According to Koplan, the American lifestyle of
convenience and inactivity has had a devastating toll on every segment of society,
particularly on children. Research shows that 60% of overweight 5- to 10-year-old children
already have at least one risk factor for heart disease, including hyperlipidemia and
elevated blood pressure or insulin levels.
According to CDC research published in the October
13, 1999, issue of JAMA, more than two-thirds of American adults are trying to
lose weight or keep from gaining weight but many do not follow guidelines recommending a
combination of fewer calories and more physical activity. The 1996 Surgeon General's
Report on Physical Activity and Health shows that more than 60 percent of adults are not
participating in the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity most days
of the week. The Report stresses that physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve
The October 27 JAMA contains two articles and an
editorial on obesity by CDC authors: "The Spread of Obesity in the United
States"; "Are Health Care Professionals Advising Obese Patients to Lose
Weight?"; and an editorial, "Caloric Imbalance and Public Health Policy."
Koplan will release the findings of the JAMA
articles at the American Medical Association's 18th Annual Science Reporters
Conference at the University of California at Los Angeles on October 26. (For more
information call the AMA at  464-5374.)
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