Obesity Epidemic Increases Dramatically

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% above ideal body weight) in the population increased from 12% in 1991 to 17.9% 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 United States, 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 conditions."

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."

What can I do to keep my child from being overweight?
Weight problems can be very hard to fix, so it's important to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. Here are some tips to help you keep your child at a healthy weight:

1. Don't make your child eat when he or she isn't hungry--it's OK if not every drink or every meal gets finished.

2. Don't use food to comfort or to reward.

3. Don't offer dessert as a reward for finishing a meal. Doing this teaches your child to value sweets more than other foods.

4. Offer your child a healthy diet. No more than 30 percent of all the calories your child eats should be fat calories. Ask your doctor or a dietitian to teach you about the right kinds of food to feed your child. Your child needs to get lots of fiber from fruits, vegetables and grains.

5. Don't eat at fast-food restaurants more than once a week.

6. Limit how much TV your child watches. Try to get your child to do something active instead, like riding a bicycle or playing ball.

7. Spend time being active with your child--go on family walks and play outdoor games together whenever you can.

8. Teach your child good eating and exercise habits now to help him or her have a healthy life.

Source: American Academy of Family Physicians, www.aafp.org/