Obesity Continues to Grow as a National Epidemic

Some facts: Since 1980, obesity among adults has doubled. Among adolescents the number has tripled. Less than one-third of Americans meet the standards (set by the federal government) for exercising at least 30 minutes per day for five days per week. Even being 10 or 20 pounds overweight, increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and even premature death. Skipping one 12-ounce soft drink or briskly walking 30 minutes most of the days of the week can, in a year's time, help an individual lose 10 pounds. Obesity is more than an aesthetic problem or an issue of a few extra pounds here or there. Obesity is an American epidemic that shows no signs of fading away; in fact, the situation continues to worsen. Soon, obesity will pass tobacco as the leading cause of preventable deaths in this country. Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) level of greater than 30. (For more information on BMI and how to calculate yours, refer to the U.S. Surgeon General's web site). Incredibly, an estimated 300,000 U.S. deaths each year are associated in some way with obesity and overweight. Cost-wise, the price is steep as well: the total direct and indirect costs attributed to overweight and obesity were $117 billion last year (2000). There is no shortage of good reasons that overweight and obesity are referred to in medical circles as epidemics. In all reality, if these serious health issues are not addressed as such,

they "could wipe out some of the gains we've made in areas such as heart disease, several forms of cancer, and other chronic health problems", said Surgeon General Satcher. Going forward, there are a number of initiatives and calls to action that the government, the medical establishment and scores of fitness, wellness and good-health proponents are suggesting and promoting. One is the changing of the perception that obesity is about body image and personal appearance. Obesity is about health, and can be, in its most serious form, a matter of life and death. It's much more than looking good in a bathing suit or in your favorite pair of jeans. Another widespread notion that needs to be revised is the idea that losing weight, getting in shape and changing habits is an "all or nothing proposition". There are also a number of movements that aim to nip the epidemic in the bud at the early childhood and adolescent levels. It's well known that obese children grow up to be obese adults (about 70% of them). It is never too early to encourage physical activity and good eating habits to the younger generation. Playing outside on the playground is preferable to sitting on the couch in front of the TV any day. The message out there is clear: Any effort is better than none at all, and it is not difficult to see results from even a minor positive change in routine or habit. Weight loss can result in lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, better cholesterol levels and lessened joint and back pain. And as the Surgeon General himself put it, "Every pound counts".