Lindsey Tanner, AP
The nation's obesity rate appears to have stalled, but the latest numbers still show that more than two-thirds of adults and almost one-third of kids are overweight, with no sign of improvement. According to government data from the years 2007-08 published this week, the obesity rate has held steady for about five years.
Dr. William Dietz, an obesity expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautiously called the results promising. “We're at the corner; we haven't turned the corner,” he said. Not only are the vast majority of adults overweight, 34 percent are obese; and 17 percent of children are obese. Even the youngest Americans are affected — 10 percent of babies and toddlers are precariously heavy.
“Even though this finding is certainly good news, the statistics are still staggering,” said Dr. J. Michael Gaziano. The new data is based on health surveys involving height and weight measurements of 5,700 adults and 4,000 children.
Perhaps most disturbing among the results is that most obese kids were extremely obese. And the percentage of extremely obese boys ages 6 to 19 has steadily increased, to 15 percent from about 9 percent in 1999-2000.
CDC researcher and study author Cynthia Ogden said it was disappointing to see no decline, and troubling that the heaviest boys seem to be getting even heavier. The study didn't examine the causes, but Ogden cited the usual reasons — soft drinks, video games and inactivity. “We shouldn't be complacent. We still have a problem,” Ogden said.
The epidemic is high on the White House agenda. President Barack Obama has pushed to make obesity prevention part of health care reform. Overhaul measures pending in Congress include encouraging employer-based wellness programs and requiring large restaurant chains to list calories. And Michelle Obama on Wednesday said fighting childhood obesity will be a top priority this coming year.
In a round-table conversation with reporters about her first year in office and upcoming goals, Mrs. Obama said the new CDC reports suggest a generation of children will be destined for increased rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes. “We have a chance to change the fate of the next generation if we get on it,” she said.
People like Darrell Pender are paying attention. Pender is a 42-year-old New York City computer technician who decided to get serious about fighting fat after being diagnosed with diabetes three years ago. He was tempted by a TV ad for obesity surgery, but chose a less drastic option — a nutrition support group that he credits with helping him make healthier food choices. So far, he's lost 50 pounds over several months. At 350 pounds, he's still very obese, but his diabetes is under control and he feels healthier.