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Americans On Track to Getting Even Fatter

  • Published: 2011-11-16 (Revised/Updated 2017-01-16) : Author: Northwestern University News Center : Contact: news.northwestern.edu
  • Synopsis: In 2020 the vast majority of adults in America will be overweight or obese and more than half will suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions.

Quote: "In 2020, 77 percent of men and 53 percent of women will have dysglycemia (either diabetes or pre-diabetes). Currently, 62 percent of men and 43 percent of women have dysglycemia."

Main Document

By 2020 majority of adults in America will be overweight and suffer from diabetic conditions...

Obesity - A medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems.

Body mass index (BMI) - A measurement which compares weight and height, defines people as overweight (pre-obese) if their BMI is between 25 and 30 kg/m2, and obese when it is greater than 30 kg/m2 - Calculate Your BMI

In 2020, the vast majority of adults in America will be overweight or obese and more than half will suffer from diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions, according to projections presented by Northwestern Medicine researchers at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions Wednesday, Nov. 16, in Orlando.

The AHA has set a target to help Americans improve their overall heart health by 20 percent in 2020. However, if current trends continue, Americans can expect only a modest improvement of six percent in overall cardiovascular health in 2020.

The implications of not increasing heart health by 20 percent by 2020 could be grave.

Declining rates of sickness and death from cardiovascular disease may stall, and related health care costs, already projected to reach $1.1 trillion per year by 2030, could rise even further. That's according to study author Mark Huffman, M.D., assistant professor in preventive medicine and medicine-cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Representative of all Americans, the study is based on patterns found in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) from 1988 to 2008. The projected numbers on weight and diabetes, based on previous trends, follow.

"To increase overall heart health by 20 percent, American adults would need to rapidly reverse these unhealthy trends - starting today," Huffman said. "In concert with individual choices, public health policies can be and should be effective tools to reduce smoking, increase access to healthy foods, and increase physical activity in daily life."

More people would need to improve health behaviors related to diet, physical activity, body weight and smoking and health factors, related to glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure.

"We've been dealing with the obesity trend for the past three decades, but the impact we project on blood sugar is a true shock," said Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., chair and associate professor of preventive medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and senior author of the study. "Those are some really scary numbers. When blood sugar goes up like that all of the complications of diabetes come into play."

Less than five percent of Americans currently are considered to have ideal cardiovascular health.

The modest six percent improvement in cardiovascular health that is projected for 2020 means better cholesterol and blood pressure numbers for Americans and fewer smokers. Improvements in treatment and control of cholesterol and blood pressure with medication and declines in smoking would partially account for this small boost, but they wouldn't be enough to offset the weight and diabetes problems Americans face, Huffman said. Projected improvements in diet and physical activity also contribute to the six percent projection, but the absolute increase in Americans who consume ideal diets will remain less than two percent by 2020, if current trends continue.

"Since the 1960s cardiovascular disease death rates have substantially decreased, but if the weight and dysglycemia trends continue to increase, we are in danger of seeing a reversal of those gains," Huffman said.

Achieving a healthy weight through diet and physical activity is the best way most Americans can improve their cardiovascular health, but, as Huffman stressed, not smoking is the number one preventable cause of preventable death. Yet, one in five Americans still smoke.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded this study.

Facts: Obesity in America

Obesity in the United States has been increasingly cited as a major health issue in recent decades. While many industrialized countries have experienced similar increases, obesity rates in the United States are among the highest in the world. Obesity has continued to grow within the United States. Two out of every three Americans are considered to be overweight or obese. During the early 21st century, America often contained the highest percentage of obese people in the world. An obese person in America incurs an average of $1,429 more in medical expenses annually. Approximately $147 billion is spent in added medical expenses per year within the United States.

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