Wed, Oct 05, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Most Americans destined to become overweight: study


Just when the US thought it couldn't get any fatter, a new study that followed Americans for three decades suggests that over the long haul, nine out of 10 men and seven out of 10 women will become overweight.

Even if an American is one of the lucky few who made it to middle age without getting fat, they can't congratulate themselves -- they need to keep watching that waistline.

Half of the men and women in the study who had made it well into adulthood without a weight problem ultimately became overweight. A third of those women and a quarter of the men became obese.

"You cannot become complacent, because you are at risk of becoming overweight," said Ramachandran Vasan, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University and the study's lead author.

He and other researchers studied data gathered from 4,000 white adults over 30 years. Participants were between the ages of 30 and 59 at the start, and were examined every four years. By the end, more than one in three had become obese.


The findings, published yesterday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, show that obesity may be a greater problem than indicated by studies that look at a cross-section of the population at one point in time. Those so-called "snapshots" of obesity have found about 6 in 10 are overweight and about 1 in 3 are obese, Vasan said.

The findings also re-emphasize that people must continually watch their weight, Vasan said.

The research subjects were the children of participants in the long-running and often-cited Framingham Heart Study, which has been following the health of generations of Massachusetts residents.

Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which supported the study, said the findings show "we could have an even more serious degree of overweight and obesity over the next few decades."

Susan Bartlett, an assistant professor of medicine and an obesity researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the study was one of the first to look at the risk of becoming overweight.

"The results are pretty sobering, really," said Bartlett, who was not involved in the research.


While the health risks of being obese are much more severe than being overweight, those who are overweight are much more likely to go on to become obese, Bartlett said.

The study shows Americans live in an "environment in which it's hard not to become overweight or obese. Unless people actively work against that, that's what's most likely to happen to them."

Obesity raises the risk of heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and arthritis, and being overweight raises blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn can raise the risk of heart disease.

The number of deaths linked to obesity has been heavily debated. Earlier this year the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said obesity caused only about 25,814 deaths annually in the US -- far fewer than the 365,000 deaths the agency had earlier reported. Other scientists have disagreed with the revised conclusion.

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