Obesity and its toll are soaring, CDC says

ATLANTA — Obesity rates continue to soar among the U.S. population, particularly in children. And the result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, leads both to “psychosocial problems and to cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, high cholesterol and abnormal glucose tolerance or diabetes.”

Childhood obesity now affects some 12.5 million children and teens, or 17% of all youth in America, the CDC noted in a report issued Friday. That’s a dramatic increase in recent decades, with obesity rates tripling in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the agency.

“During the past 10 years, the rapid increase in obesity has slowed and might have leveled,” the report added. “However, among the heaviest boys, a significant increase in obesity has been observed, with the heaviest getting even heavier. Moreover, substantial racial/ethnic disparities exist, with Hispanic boys and non-Hispanic black girls disproportionately affected by obesity.”

Citing one study, the CDC noted that 70% of obese children had at least one additional cardiovascular risk factor, and 30% had two or more. What’s more, “although the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in teens is very low, a recent report estimated that 15% of new diabetes cases among children and adolescents are Type 2 diabetes [cases]," the agency said. "In the 1980s, Type 2 diabetes in teens virtually was unheard of.”

Behind the rising obesity rates, according to the report, are such factors as “shifts in food consumption, changes in physical activity levels and higher levels of TV-viewing, with the consequent inactivity and marketing of food to children.”

Among adults, the news also was dismal: A full third of grown-ups in the United States are now obese, the agency said. That 34% obesity rate translates into nearly 73 million adult men and women who are significantly overweight. Equally striking, according to the agency, is the fact that on average, U.S. adults weighed 24 lbs. more than they did in 1960. That means “increased risk for health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers,” the agency noted.

It also means skyrocketing healthcare costs. “Although obesity prevalence has remained mostly flat in the past 10 years, the costs associated with obesity have increased substantially during the same period,” the CDC reported. “One study estimated that approximately 9% of all medical costs in 2008 were obesity-related and amounted to $147 billion, compared with $78.5 billion 10 years before,” the report noted.

The CDC is recommending a wide range of approaches to deal with the obesity epidemic. Among them, according to the agency, are “strategies that alter the food and physical activity environments in places where [people] live, learn, work, play and pray.”

The agency’s recommendations extend from the beginning of a child’s life. “Breast-feeding has been shown to have substantial health benefits for children,” the report noted. Other recommendations include “decreasing consumption of high-energy-density foods, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, decreasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and decreasing time spent watching television and exposure to food marketed to children.”

For kids, fast-food consumption should be cut way back, the report added, and “activity levels can be increased by making it safer to walk or bike to school. Quality school physical education programs that keep children moving the majority of their time in physical education class should be implemented,” the CDC noted.

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