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Growing epidemic: Nearly 4 in 10 U.S. adults now obese

Staff Writer |
Almost forty percent adults in the United States are now obese, continuing an ever-expanding epidemic of obesity that's expected to lead to sicker Americans and higher health care costs.

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Almost four out of 10 adults and 18.5 percent of kids aged 2 to 19 now meet the clinical definition of obesity, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's up from 30.5 percent of adults and 13.9 percent of children in 1999-2000, the CDC report noted.

Public health experts are concerned that the continuing rise in obesity will lead to greater numbers of people suffering from diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

"We've made tremendous progress reducing deaths due to cardiovascular disease and stroke in our country. Part of that is due to treatment. Part of that is due to the tremendous reduction in tobacco use," said Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for the American Heart Association. "But we've worried if obesity trends stayed or worsened that some of those gains might be reduced."

Obesity is defined as a body mass index of 30 or more. A 6-foot-tall man weighing 221 pounds is considered obese, as is a 5-foot-9 woman weighing 203 pounds.

The increase in youth obesity is of particular concern because these children are at greater risk for lifelong health problems, said Dr. Seema Kumar, a childhood obesity specialist with the Mayo Clinic.

Kumar said she regularly sees children with diseases that used to be considered adult-only, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease.

"Because rates of obesity are so high, despite all the advances we're seeing, our children may live less healthy and shorter lives than their parents," Kumar said. "We're going to have a much higher number of adults with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease down the line."

Some trends within the overall increase in obesity also have health experts worried.

For example, Sanchez noted, obesity appears to be more prevalent in ethnic groups that are growing rapidly in the United States.

About 47 percent of Hispanic and black adults are obese, compared with 38 percent of whites and 13 percent of Asians, the researchers found.

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