OBESITY: Rates Rose 6% from ’98 to ’99, CDC Says
The number of obese Americans rose nearly 6% from 1998 to 1999, an increase of surprising magnitude, the CDC reported in a letter in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. In all, obesity among adults has risen almost 60% since 1991, with 18.9% of Americans now falling into that category. "We weren't surprised to see an increase, but we weren't looking for an increase of this magnitude," Barbara Bowman, chief of the CDC's chronic diseases and nutrition branch and a coauthor of the JAMA letter, said. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index -- weight in kilograms divided by the square of the person's height in meters -- of 30 or higher, while a BMI of 25 to 29.8 is considered overweight. The CDC found that obesity rose the most last year in adults 30-39 and in people with some college education, jumping 10% in each group. Adults 30-39 also saw a 70% increase in diabetes incidence in the 1990s -- a disease that is "associated with being overweight." Examining racial groups, the CDC found whites had the greatest increase, up 7% from 1998- 99 to a total of 17.7% obese. But Newsday/Philadelphia Inquirer reports that African Americans "as a group still have the highest percentage of obesity, 27.3%" (Ochs, Newsday/Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/4).
CDC Seeks Lifestyle Changes
Calling obesity a "critical public health problem," the CDC in its letter called for several policy changes, including:
- Making weight counseling an "integral part" of physician practice;
- Stocking "healthy food choices" in workplace cafeterias and giving employees "opportunities to exercise during working hours;"
- Retooling schools' physical education programs "in a way that inspires kids to make fitness a lifelong habit;"
- Providing more urban alternatives to cars, including sidewalks and bike paths;
- Encouraging parents to "turn off the TV and computer and send kids outdoors to play."