Obesity epidemic shows no hint of shrinking in the United States

Tuesday, February 7, 2012
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America's obesity epidemic is proving to be as stubborn as those maddening love handles and shows no sign of reversing course.

More than one-third of adults and almost 17 percent of children were obese in 2009-2010, echoing results since 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported recently.

"It's good that we didn't see increases. On the other hand, we didn't see any decreases in any group," said CDC researcher Cynthia Ogden.

Early in the decade, slight increases were seen among white, black and Hispanic men, and among Hispanic and black women. Those changes may be leveling off, but the authors said they "found no indication that the prevalence of obesity is declining in any group."

Kimberly A. Keser, a family nurse practitioner at AWL Family Health Care Clinic LLC in Cape Girardeau, said fast food and busy schedules are contributing to the steady level of obesity.

"Fast food is a huge problem," Keser said. "It's quick and easy. It's so easy just to pick up a burger and fries on the run. In addition, our society is very busy and hectic, and for the most part we do not exercise."

Keser noted that people should watch what and how much they eat and exercise 30 minutes a day.

In 2009-2010, more than 78 million adults and almost 13 million children ages 2 to 19 were obese, the CDC researchers reported.

While those numbers haven't increased in recent years, "we're plateauing at an unacceptably high prevalence rate," said Dr. David Ludwig, director of an obesity prevention center at Children's Hospital Boston. He was not involved in the reports.

The CDC reports summarize results of national health surveys in children and adults, which are conducted every two years. The nationally representative surveys include in-person weight and height measurements. The 2009-2010 reports involved nearly 6,000 adults and about 4,000 children, from infancy through age 19.

The results were released online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Elbert Huang, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago who studies health care policy issues, said his research shows that even if obesity rates continue to remain stable, there will be dramatic increases down the road in diabetes and in costs linked with that disease. That's because Type 2 diabetes, among many diseases linked with obesity, becomes more prevalent as people age.

The latest reports -- one on children and the other on adults -- focused on obesity, meaning a body mass index of at least 30. But the numbers of adults and children who were overweight, with a BMI of between 25 and 29, also remained high.

Overall, 33 percent of adults were overweight but not obese, versus about 15 percent of children and teens.

Justin Franke, a physical therapist at Select Physical Therapy in Jackson, said that helping curb childhood obesity starts with parents.

"Set an example," Franke said. "Kids mimic their parents in diet and activity. If they see their parents sitting watching TV every night, children will see that as acceptable. Get outside and run and play with the kids or at least stand around and make them do the running."

Raina Childers, a registered dietitian and nutrition services coordinator for HealthPoint Fitness in Cape Girardeau, also noted the importance of parents setting a good example, eating at home more and being physically active.

"There are many things parents can do to help any age child," Childers said. "First, be a healthy example. Choose healthier foods and plan for physical activity and watch how much time is spent in front of a television or computer screen.

"Eating at home helps control overall calories, can encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, and provides an opportunity to spend time together as a family. Parents can also limit high-calorie snacks and beverages available in the home, get the kids outside to play or participate in sports, and limit their screen time daily."

Rates of overweight or obese adults and children were generally higher in blacks and Hispanics than in whites.

The government says a healthy weight is a BMI of between 18 and 25. The index is a measurement based on height and weight.

Dr. Victoria Adjovu, an internal medicine physician at Cape Primary Care in Cape Girardeau, said for some individuals a medical problem may contribute to weight gain.

"Medically, we do see some illnesses such as Cushing's disease and polycystic ovary syndrome which can lead to obesity or weight gain," Adjovu said. "In addition, drugs such as steroids and some antidepressants can cause weight gain.

"There is also evidence that some genetic disorders can lead to obesity. With these conditions, we treat the underlying disease and individualize the weight-loss goals."

Jane Wernsman, assistant director at the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center, said education is an important component to losing weight.

"What do we suggest: Educate individuals and families about healthy nutrition and physical exercise, and encourage them to make healthier choices in their daily lives," Wernsman said.

Dr. Greg Pursley, a chiropractor at PC Wellness Centers in Cape Girardeau, said that planning is critical to meeting any weight-loss goals.

"Make a plan and change your lifestyle," Pursley said. "Most people skip the planning process and jump in to a fad diet. Did you know that 95 percent of diets fail? It is because of a failure to plan."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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