OBESITY: America’s Waistline Expands to Epidemic Levels
The nation's obesity "epidemic" has continued to expand this decade with the proportion of Americans defined as dangerously overweight in 1998 up almost 50% from 1991, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The problem is so pervasive that this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) focuses almost entirely on obesity-related issues (Fauber, 10/26). According to one CDC study in JAMA, the proportion of obese American adults -- those more than 30% above their ideal weight -- increased from 12% in 1991 to 17.9% in 1998. During that time CDC researchers spoke to 100,000 randomly selected respondents each year. They found that while four of 45 states had obesity rates greater than 15% in 1991, but that number grew to 37 states exceeded 15% last year. Although younger adults, people with some college education and Hispanics showed the greatest increase, researchers found "a steady increase ... in all states; in both sexes; across age groups, races, educational levels ... regardless of smoking status" ( AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/27). Of all geographic regions, the South experienced the greatest increase in obesity, up 67.2% (Kansas City Star, 10/26). Georgia led the way, with its obesity rate doubling during that time (McKenna, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/27). Another study found more than half of all adults are overweight, while 22% are obese. Researchers estimate that nearly 300,000 deaths are caused by obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and some cancers. Ironically, Americans' expansion comes at a time when the weight-loss industry boasts a $33 billion annual revenue (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/27). CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan said, "Obesity is an epidemic and should be taken as seriously as any infectious disease epidemic" (Corwin, Augusta Chronicle, 10/27). Dr. William Dietz, co-author of the survey article and director of the CDC division of nutrition and physical activity, said, "What this epidemic does demonstrate without question is that genetics are not at the heart of this increase," adding that during the observed time period the "gene pool did not change."
Practice What You Preach
In order to combat obesity, Dietz recommended "comprehensive public health strategies" including school-based programs designed to reduce television watching and promote exercise and nutrition (Jennings, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 10/27). Researchers wrote in JAMA, "Without a concerted initiative to prevent and treat overweight in adults, the health care system will increasingly be overwhelmed with individuals who require treatment for obesity-related conditions" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/26). Clinical nutritionist Diane Smith said, "It really needs to be a campaign on all levels" (Augusta Chronicle, 10/26). Dietz indicated that physicians should practice what they preach. "One way is to focus on how physicians take care of their own diets," he said (Hsu, Boston Globe, 10/27). Public health initiatives will have to combat "[g]rowth in the marketing of fast food and snack food" if they are going to change Americans' behavior (AP/Baltimore Sun, 10/27). Although Americans are "bombarded every day with warnings about lethargic exercise habits and the dangers of excessive eating," Dietz said that "the public is years away from accepting obesity as a severe health risk." University of Kentucky obesity expert James Anderson said, "Americans want a quick fix. We're an impatient society. We all recognize that we ought to exercise, but it's hard to carve out the time" (Lexington Herald-Leader, 10/27).