Nutrition Column – Obesity and Diabetes Continue to Rise

The latest figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm what most of us already know – the obesity and diabetes epidemics continued to escalate in 2001. Furthermore, it’s likely that the next round of statistics will show that the rise continued through 2002.

It’s now estimated that only a third of Americans age 20 years and over are of a healthy weight, which is defined as a body mass index, or BMI, between 18.5 and 24.9. About one-third are overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9) and 21 percent to 30 percent are obese (BMI greater than 30). The exact level of obesity differs somewhat based on the type of survey used, with surveys based on self-reports showing lower estimates than those based on examinations.

BMI is determined by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. For those of us who relate to pounds and inches, multiply your weight in pounds by 700, then divide the product by height in inches squared to arrive at your BMI. Using this formula, a 5-foot 6-inch man or woman weighing 155 pounds has a BMI of 25.

Unfortunately, overweight and particularly obesity are associated with increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, asthma, arthritis and poor health status. For example, in the recent CDC study, those with a body mass index of 40 or higher were 7.7 times more likely of being diagnosed with diabetes compared to adults with healthy weight (BMIs between 18.5 and 24.9). They also had a 6.4 times higher risk of high blood pressure, 4.4 times greater risk for arthritis, 2.7 times higher risk for asthma and were 1.9 times more likely to have high blood cholesterol levels.

In the CDC study, prevalence of both diagnosed diabetes and obesity varied widely among states. Mississippi had the highest rate of obesity at 25.9 percent and second highest rate of diabetes at 10.3 percent. Our own state of Colorado had the lowest rate of obesity at 14.4 percent and fourth lowest diagnosed rate of diabetes at 5.6 percent. Rates of diabetes were lower in Wyoming, Utah and Minnesota.

The good news is that there are many small changes we can make in our lifestyles and in our environment to help us shape up and improve our health. Even a modest weight loss of 10 pounds can significantly reduce the risk of getting diabetes or heart disease, as can walking 30 minutes a day.

If weight loss is your goal, a slow, steady weight loss is preferred to pounds that come off quickly, only to be added back even more quickly. Why? First, a slow rate of weight loss ensures that pounds come off as fat, not water and lean tissue. Secondly, the less drastic the calorie reduction, the less the body will try to hold on to calories by expending less energy. Finally, it’s easier to convert small reductions in calorie intake into daily habits that become routine.

A good recommendation for those with 10 to 20 pounds to lose is to reduce calorie intake by 250 calories each day. Assuming you’re maintaining weight on your current daily calorie intake, reducing that intake by 250 calories should result in a 3,500-calorie deficit in two weeks or a 2-pound weight loss per month. Over a year’s time, that’s 24 pounds. While any 250 calories can be targeted, your plan will work best if you focus on cutting the portion sizes of high-fat foods you typically eat every day.

Along with moderating portion sizes, make sure you include 30 to 60 minutes of regular physical activity in your daily routine. This does not need to be done all at once. Taking the stairs rather than the elevator, selecting a parking space farther out rather than circling until you find a closer spot and taking a walking break with a friend are ways to work physical activity into your daily routine. – 30 –

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