Monday, May 7, 2012

Obesity epidemic

We haven't started our physiology section yet but with today's dramatic headlines from the CDC's 'Weight of the Nation' event I thought I'd post a little about obesity.

Obesity is not simply being overweight, it's usually defined as having a Body Mass Index over 30. To put this in perspective I weigh 160lb and have a BMI pretty much in the middle of the normal range. If I put on 70lbs of weight (which would be about two Otto's worth - Otto is the 30+lb cat in the picture who has since lost weight) I would still not be obese (although I would be overweight!) So obesity is not simply a medical term for being overweight - it is a precise medical term for being VERY overweight. We know that at this point obesity causes many serious health problems.

Now in today's headlines we see the shocking news that 36% of American's are now obese (up from 12% in 1990 and 22% in 2000) and by 2030 that is estimated to rise to 42% leading to somewhere around half a TRILLION dollars in extra healthcare costs between now and then (compared to if obesity rates stayed at 2010 levels). This is all based on a paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine - Obesity and Severe Obesity Forecasts Through 2030.
About the only good news is that the paper actually results in a lower estimate of future obesity than some previous analyses but that's cold comfort given the conclusions:

The study estimates a 33% increase in obesity prevalence and a 130% increase in severe obesity prevalence over the next 2 decades. If these forecasts prove accurate, this will further hinder efforts for healthcare cost containment.

The paper also provides some estimates for 'severe obesity' (BMI>40 - for me that would be just about doubling my weight to 310lb). These estimates are actually worse than current estimates. By 2030 they predict that 10% of the US population will be severely obese.

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