Majority of U.S. adults at serious risk of becoming overweight, obese

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — A new study supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute claims the nation’s obesity problem may be more serious than previously believed and the future burden of obesity-related conditions could be substantial.

A large, community-based study — considered the first study to assess the long-term risk of developing overweight and obesity in adults — found that over 30 years, 9 out of 10 men and 7 out of 10 women were overweight or became overweight. In addition, more than one in three were obese or became obese.

As part of the study, researchers analyzed the short-term and long-term chances of developing overweight and obesity among more than 4,000 white adults enrolled in the offspring cohort of N.H.L.B.I.’s landmark Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing longitudinal study in Framingham, Mass. Participants ages 30 to 59 were followed for 30 years, from 1971 to 2001. The results appear in the Oct. 4 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"National surveys and other studies have told us that the United States has a major weight problem, but this study suggests that we could have an even more serious degree of overweight and obesity over the next few decades," said Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., director of the N.H.L.B.I. and co-chair of the NIH Obesity Research Task Force. "In addition, these results may underestimate the risk for some ethnic groups."

Framingham participants were white, and other studies have shown, for example, that Hispanic and black individuals, especially women, have a greater prevalence of excess weight compared to their white counterparts.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65% of U.S. adults aged 20 years and older are either overweight or obese, and approximately 30% of adults are obese. These estimates are from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a population-based survey.

Among those who were overweight, 16% to 23% of women and 12% to 13% of men became obese within four years.

"Our results, although not surprising, are worrisome," said Ramachandran Vasan, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "If the trend continues, our country will continue to face substantial health problems related to excess weight."

Excess weight and obesity increase the risk of poor health and may lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, breathing problems and some cancers, Ms. Nabel said.

"We hope these results will serve as a wake-up call to Americans of all ages," she noted. "Even those who are now at a healthy weight need to be careful about maintaining energy balance to avoid gaining weight. Taking simple steps to make sure that the overall the number of calories you consume do not exceed the amount you burn can play a major role in lowering your risk for many chronic conditions."

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