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Article: What is the Number One Health Problem in the United States Today?

By Elaine Cassel

What is the number one health problem in the United States today? If you said cancer, heart disease, or hypertension, you are wrong. But not entirely. These diseases are related to the number one health problem.

According to a report presented at the American Medical Association's Annual Convention in July, 1999, obesity is the number one health problem in the United States today. Americans are getting heftier. National data indicate that one-third to one-half of adult men and women are overweight, and nearly one-fourth are clinically obese.

Clinical obesity is a condition of being significantly overweight. It is defined by the ratio of a person's height and weight, a statistic called the body mass index, or BMI. Federal guidelines consider a person with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 as overweight, and a person with a BMI of 30 or more as obese.

Carrying around significantly excess weight puts a person at risk for significant health problems, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers—the things that many of you probably thought were the major health problems in American today. Obesity also increases the adult-onset diabetes, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, and respiratory problems.

Aside from obesity, yo-yo dieting and gaining weight put a great strain on the cardiovascular system. Further, obesity is related to mental health and emotional adjustment. Overweight people are often stigmatized by the public.

The problem is not limited to adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on nutrition has established obesity as the No. 1 problem in child health, said Edmund Burke, MD, of the AAP. National studies suggest that 14% of children and 12% of adolescents are overweight, which could lead to an increased risk for some chronic diseases later in life.

The AMA called upon physicians to be more instrumental in detecting and counseling their patients about being overweight. But if you are overweight, you can start to eat more healthy foods, limit your intake to normal portion sizes, and get more exercise. Of course, if you are more than 10 percent overweight, you should consider seeing a physician or a nutritionist so that you can rule out causes related to overweight other than poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Obesity may be related to hormonal imbalances, adverse reactions to medication, and other causes unrelated to how much you eat or how little you exercise.

However, in many cases, obesity can be overcome by proper diet and exercise—neither of which may inspire much enthusiasm. But like it or not, you may as well get used to controlling your weight. Studies suggest that life expectancy is continually increasing. There are currently more than three times the number of centenarians than there were in the 1980s. People born today have a good chance of living late into, or even to the end of, the 21st century—if they take care of themselves. The relationship between obesity and other serious health problems makes it imperative that we have a healthy concern for our appropriate weight for reasons far beyond weight control. Finding the healthy weight for your height and body type and staying there—give or take a few pounds that you may gain or lose in times of stress and celebration—is very important to overall physical health and longevity. So get off of the couch, the hammock, or that comfortable chair in front of your computer, reach for the apples instead of the cookies, and start planning your strategy for maintaining your proper weight from now until well into the 21st century!

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