C-D-C says obesity is America’s newest epidemic

Wednesday, October 27th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The U-S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning Tuesday that obesity in this country has reached epidemic proportions. Experts say the often life-threatening condition can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even some cancers.

At the beginning of 1990, 45 states submitted data revealing that in only four states 15 per cent or more of their population was obese. Obesity is loosely defined as being 30 or more pounds overweight. By 1998, 37 states reported obesity rates at 15 per cent or higher. As director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Jeffery Koplan does not use the word epidemic lightly. But that's the term he and his colleagues used in their report of a national survey appearing in an obesity issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. "It's particularly striking for a health risk behavior to take off at this speed,” he said.

At the A-M-A’s annual science reporters’ conference, Dr. Koplan underscored the enormity of the problem. Nearly one out of five Americans 18 and older are obese. This is an increase of 50 per cent since 1991. "The American society as a whole has not taken it really seriously,” said Dr. Koplan. “I think that we still treat overweight and obesity as esthetic issues, cosmetic issues, rather than really health issues." Though obesity has increased in both men and women among all social and economic groups, the biggest increases during the 1990's were among 18 to 29 year olds, people of Hispanic background and those with some college education.

Regionally, the southeastern states weighed in with the greatest increase. They reported almost a 70 per cent increase during the same time period. The survey found that physical activity, a key component in controlling weight, stayed at a constant low level. While four in 10 adults reported getting regular exercise, one third of the adult population says they get no leisure-time physical activity. This includes new programs developed by the C-D-C with other public and private agencies aimed at educating and motivating more people to take control of their weight by reducing calories and increasing physical activity.

Dr. Koplan and his colleges say it's time to develop a national obesity prevention strategy. Since lifetime habits begin during childhood, they say any prevention effort must begin with making the restoration of school-based daily physical education a national priority. It's estimated that illnesses linked to obesity may account for 70 per cent of the health care costs in this country.