OBESITY: Gov’t Lowers Guideline For Healthy Weight
In a "controversial move," the federal government will release new guidelines this month that lower its definition of a healthy weight, a move that is drawing criticism from members of the public health community. The Washington Post reports that the guidelines, slated to be released June 17 by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, will shift 29 million Americans from "normal weight" to "overweight." The reclassification is "designed to try to reduce the health problems caused by weighing too much," including "increased risk of ... diabetes, elevated blood cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure." Some public health advocates say, however, that the new standards will "classify people as overweight who are not really facing a significant health risk." But researchers who have worked on the guidelines for months said the change is a signal to doctors and patients that body weight figures significantly into risks for health problems. "We felt that we owed it to physicians and their patients to alert them to this fact ... We felt that the record was clear and the risk was there," said obesity researcher Xavier Pi-Sunyer, who chaired the NHLBI panel that wrote the guidelines. But University of California-San Diego's Judy Stern, the only panel member to vote against endorsing the new standards, said, "They have misquoted the data ... if they are going to do it scientifically, they should do it scientifically. I would not change public health policy on that."
The new federal guidelines "also address such thorny questions as when diet and exercise alone should be used to shed pounds and when drug treatment should be considered and for whom," the Post reports. Critics worry, however, that the lower standard "will open the door to wider use of diet drugs." The new guidelines require diet drugs to be prescribed only within Food and Drug Administration standards, but "obesity experts worry ... that doctors will be tempted to prescribe diet drugs sooner." Stern said: "I want to make sure that the treatment of obesity with drugs is balanced by the risk for being ... overweight." Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop is among the critics of the new guidelines. "We have so many overweight and obese people in this country and we are trying desperately to get them down to weights that will be more protective," he said. "This makes it more complicated."
Slimming Down The Standards
The changes put U.S. obesity standards in line with classifications used by other nations and the World Health Organization, but the changes also shift the standards further from ones used by other agencies like the National Center for Health Statistics, the Post reports (Squires, 6/4). CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reported that the definition of a healthy weight drops from 155 pounds to 145 for a person who is 5'3" and from 185 to 175 for someone who is 5'10" under the new standards ( CNN Today, 6/3). The guidelines will classify 55% of the U.S. population -- 97 million adults -- as overweight, the Post reports (6/4).