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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," Susan Bartlett, assistant professor of medicine and obesity researcher, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (AP)

Creeping Obesity Gains Momentum 

Not long ago, I wrote that the average person in this country gains approximately one pound each year after age 25, or a total of 30 pounds of excess weight by age 55. (Fat Loss Mother Nature’s Way, article 13, Fat Loss & Weight Control category) That may actually be conservative. A new study found that nine out of 10 young to middle-aged adults were or became overweight or obese over a 30-year period.

A study reported in the October 4, 2005 Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed height and weight records collected every four years on 4117 white men and women age 30 to 59 in the famous Framingham Heart study from 1971 to 2001. The participants were the offspring of the original subjects in the long-running study. The purpose of the new study was to learn the short- and long-term risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Body mass index (BMI) was used to determine whether the subjects were normal, overweight or obese. To calculate each person’s BMI his or her weight in kilograms was divided by the square of their height in meters. Normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9; overweight is 25 to 29.9; and obese is 30 or more. Periodic BMI classification was then used to determine how often subjects with normal bodyweight became overweight or obese within short (4 years) and long (10 to 30 years) time periods.

This sounds simple enough but, as the researchers went to great pains to explain, it’s more complicated than one might think. For example, subjects who were already overweight or obese at the start of the study (or other observation periods) had to be excluded from the rate of change calculations. Weight cycling had to be taken into account, because subjects who repeatedly gained or lost 10 pounds had the potential to skew the calculations. As always, smoking status and smoking cessation had to be considered. What’s more, BMI does not always reflect changes in body fat. For instance, people who lose muscle and gain fat may not show a change in BMI; it’s also possible to lose fat and gain muscle without changing BMI. There’s more, but you get the idea. The statistical calculations were not easy. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the researchers tried their best to be as accurate as possible.

The Results

The press coverage (and there was plenty) almost always trumpeted, in the headline or lead paragraph, that 9 of 10 men and 7 of 10 women will become fat. The pieces don’t spell out the basis for those figures, however. I’ll tell you what those numbers include in a moment. Before we do that, let’s look at the short- and long-term findings.

First, we're gaining weight fast. Making it to middle age without getting fat is no guarantee you’ll stay at a healthy weight. Within 4 years (all 4-year periods for which figures were available), 14% to 19% of the women and 26% to 30% of men became overweight, while 5% to 7% of women and 7% to 9% of the men became obese.

The long-term percentages are higher, of course. Within 30 years, more than half of the men and women became overweight, and about one third of the women and one quarter of the men became obese. Interestingly, older participants (over 50) became overweight or obese less often than the younger people. In other words, we are getting fat sooner than past generations.

Those are the bottom line findings. So where do the headline numbers come from?

The numbers highlighted in the media accounts are the long-term risk of ever being overweight--including participants who were already overweight. “Over a follow-up period of 30 years,” the researchers wrote, “more than three quarters of women and 90% of men were overweight or became overweight or more.” The obesity rate was 40 to 50 percent, including participants who were already obese.

What’s the take home message? First, excess weight is a big problem and getting worse. The patient summary provided in Annals says, “Overweight and obese people are more likely than normal-weight people to have health problems, such as some forms of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and knee arthritis. They also die at a younger age.”

Elizabeth Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a sponsor of the Framingham Heart study, told Scripps Howard News Service: “National surveys and other studies have told us that the United States has a major weight problem, but this study suggests that we could have an even more serious degree of overweight and obesity over the next few decades.”

“You cannot become complacent,” Ramachandran S. Vasan, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University and the lead researcher in the new study, told the AP, “because you are at risk of becoming overweight.”

Susan Bartlett, an assistant professor and obesity researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, added that the study shows that 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.”

So, what can we do?

The Solution

The government and researchers can help make us aware of the overweight problem, but they can’t solve it for us. We must do that ourselves. The solution rests with us. Moreover, it’s not as difficult as some would have us believe. In fact, it’s pretty simple if we understand and follow a few basic principles.

First, eat mostly whole foods that fill you up without giving you too many calories. Eat plenty of bulky and filling - but low calorie - whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Don’t cut back too much and make yourself miserable. If you’re feeling hungry and dissatisfied, you’re not eating enough. Take your time. Be patient. Don’t rush the fat loss/control process.

Second, exercise. A sedentary lifestyle throws the body's appetite control mechanism off, causing us to eat more calories than we expend. A combination of strength training and aerobic exercise works best. Again, the key is to avoid biting off more than you can chew. The best exercise program is one you’re willing to follow. If you can’t see yourself sticking to the plan, go back to the drawing board. Regular exercise makes your body work better and helps keep you lean.

Find a diet and exercise regimen you enjoy and you’re on your way to a lean and fit body. You’ll never be one of the overweight statistics described in the new study.

I know, it sounds too simple. But it’s true. There are more details, of course, but that’s basically it.

To start filling in the blanks read “Diet and training philosophy, in brief” on this site and Fat Loss Mother Nature’s Way, the article mentioned earlier. Do it now. GO Philosophy!  GO Mother Nature! 

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