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Excess Weight Is Dangerous, Despite Controversy

June 2, 2005 -- A top government health official reaffirmed obesity's standing as an "epidemic" Thursday in an attempt to quell public confusion left by controversy over the health consequences of excess weight.

The comments come several weeks after an April study concluded that being overweight does not increase the overall risk of death.being overweight does not increase the overall risk of death. The report contradicts years of public pronouncements by health officials that excess body fat is a major health risk.

It also added confusion to an already muddled picture of obesity's actual dangers. This year, controversy among CDC scientists caused the agency to vastly downgrade its widely touted mortality figures, reducing the estimated annual number of deaths due to obesity from 365,000 to 112,000.

"In my opinion, there is an epidemic of obesity in this country," Julie M. Gerberding, MD, director of the CDC, said Thursday. "I don't think it's overstating the problem to make that claim."

The CDC revised its estimates of the deaths due to obesityThe CDC revised its estimates of the deaths due to obesity after it became clear that measurement methods it used were antiquated. The agency used statistical methods dating back to the 1970s that failed to account for advancements in the treatment of diseases caused by obesity.

Those diseases include heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes. But while obesity and overweight are still regarded as a risk factor for all of those problems, newer drugs and surgical treatments have made it less likely that sufferers will die.

Trying to Regain Ground

Gerberding said that she is "very sorry" for the public confusion caused by the controversy.

It has left officials fighting to regain ground lost by the suggestion that obesity is not as dangerous as researchers previously believed.

Gerberding spent much of a Thursday meeting with reporters reiterating familiar statistics on the impact of excess weight. Among them: 65% of U.S. adults are overweight and more than 30% qualify as obese, as do a startling 16% of children; and obesity rates among children have more than doubled over the last two decades.

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