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Obesity epidemic takes tolls on young adults

American adults are becoming more obese, and nothing less than a national effort is needed to reverse the obesity epidemic.

Announcing research findings on the spread of the obesity epidemic, Dr. Jeffrey B. Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, noted that "overweight and physical inactivity account for more than 300,000 premature deaths each year in the United States, second only to tobacco-related deaths."

Several trends have encouraged more frequent eating. These include the growth of the fast food industry, the increased numbers and marketing of snack foods, and more time for socializing, which still customarily includes food and drink.

"At the same time," the CDC said, "there are fewer opportunities in daily life to burn calories: children watch more television daily; many schools have done away with or cut back on physical education; many neighborhoods lack sidewalks for safe walking; the workplace has become increasingly automated; household chores are assisted by labor-saving machinery; and walking and cycling have been replaced by automobile travel for all but the shortest distances."

Americans Are Not Getting Enough Exercise

The growing trend toward obesity was revealed in a telephone survey. Between 1991 and 1998, Koplan and colleagues at the CDC surveyed more than 100,000 adults aged 18 and older each year to monitor trends and changes in obesity rates.

The findings were presented at the American Medical Association's 18th annual Science Reporters Conference and were included in a special obesity theme issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found that the total number of obesity cases, defined as being more than 30 percent above ideal body weight, increased from 12 percent in 1991 to 17.9 percent in 1998. The highest increases, nearly 70 percent, occurred among the youngest adults -18 to 29-year- olds.

Although CDC research shows more than two-thirds of American adults are trying to lose weight or keep from gaining weight, many do not follow guidelines recommending a combination of fewer calories and more physical activity.

The 1996 Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health found that more than 60 percent of adults are not getting the minimum recommended amount of exercise.

The Medical Society of the State of New York endorses the surgeon general's recommendation, which is for every adult to accumulate in the course of each day, 30 minutes or more of physical activity of moderate intensity. The CDC survey found no changes in levels of physical activity between 1991 and 1998.

Seven Basic Guidelines to Wise Eating

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans promote moderation, variety, and balance in eating. In updating the guidelines in 1995, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services stressed that there is no single ideal diet for everyone and that these guidelines are not intended as a "quick fix" but as a framework for a lifelong eating program.

The seven basic guidelines are:

1. Balance the food you eat with physical activity to maintain your weight or bring it closer to your ideal weight.

2. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grain products.

3. Eat a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

4. Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients your body needs.

5. East only moderate amounts of sweets and mainly in the form of fresh fruits rather than in processed desserts.

6. Use only moderate amounts of salt and sodium. Experts recommend no more than 2,400 milligrams of salt a day, about the amount in 1 teaspoon of salt. Beware that most canned and other processed foods usually contain high concentrations of sodium.

7. If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Pregnant women are advised to drink no alcohol.

Being overweight puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and some forms of cancer. To avoid these health concerns and obesity in general, eat wisely and stay physically active.

This information is provided by the Medical Society of the State of New York. For more health-related information and referrals to physicians in your community, contact your local county medical society.

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