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Are We as Fat as We Can Get?

U.S. Child/Adult Obesity Rates Leveling Off but Not Going Down

By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 13, 2010 -- U.S. obesity rates are leveling off for most kids and adults, new CDC figures suggest.

It does not mean we are getting thinner, although it may mean we're nearly as fat as we can get.

The sad numbers, according to CDC researchers Katherine M. Flegal, PhD, Cynthia L. Ogden, PhD, and colleagues:

  • 12.6% of teens ages 12-19 are obese by adult standards.
  • 17% of school-age kids are obese by child standards.
  • 34% of adults -- 32% of women and 35.5% of men -- are obese.
  • 68% of adults -- two-thirds of us -- are overweight or obese.

The good news is that the rise in obesity seems to be leveling off for children and for women. The same thing seems to be happening in men, although the leveling off has been too recent for the CDC to call it a plateau.

Bucking the trend are the very heaviest 6- to 19-year-old boys, who are getting even heavier.

That any of this seems like good news is, well, not good news.

"The results presented here indicate that the prevalence of high body-mass index in childhood has remained steady for 10 years and has not declined," the CDC researchers note. "The prevalence of obesity in the United States continues to be high, exceeding 30% in most sex and age groups."

The findings appear in two papers in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In an editorial accompanying the papers, J. Michael Gaziano, MD, MPH, a contributing editor of the journal, says we've entered a new and ominous age of public health.

Gaziano says there have been four previous eras:

  • The age of pestilence and famine dominated most of human history.
  • The age of receding pandemics happened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • The age of degenerative and man-made diseases emerged in the mid-20th century.
  • The age of delayed degenerative diseases began in the 1960s as people began to quit smoking and as technological advances delayed heart deaths.

Now, he says, we're in the age of obesity and physical inactivity.

What can be done? Gaziano and the CDC say it's no longer just up to individuals. They recommend we look at our built environment -- and our food environment -- and make big changes in the things that make it easy for us to consume empty calories and hard for us to exercise.

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SOURCES: Flegal, K.M. Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 13, 2010; vol 303: pp 235-241.

Ogden, C.L. Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 13, 2010; vol 303: pp 242-249.

Gaziano, J.M. Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 13, 2010; vol 303: pp 275-276.

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