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Obesity Epidemic Quickly Gaining Ground

Morbid Obesity Increasing Faster Than Obesity, Jumps in Adolescence
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WebMD Health News

Oct. 13, 2003 -- More Americans are not only gaining extra pounds, but more Americans are also fatter than ever.

New research shows that the number of Americans who are 100 pounds or more overweight and classified as morbidly obese is growing twice as fast as the number of Americans who fall into the obese category.

And researchers say this trend is likely to continue, as a related study shows obesity rates are quickly jumping among young adults.

Obesity by the Numbers

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height) of 30 or more. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that prevalence of obesity has increased from 12.8% between 1976 and 1980 to 22.5% between 1988 and 1994, and jumped again to 30% between 1999 and 2000.

But researchers found the rates of severe or morbid obesity among those with a BMI of 40 or more quadrupled during the same period, from about one in 200 adult Americans to one in 50. And the prevalence of super obesity, defined as having a BMI of 50 or more, increased by a factor of five, from about one in 2,000 to one in 400.

The study, published in the Oct. 13 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, suggests that many doctor's offices and hospitals may face special challenges in trying to accommodate these heavier patients.

Severely obese people face more health problems then obese people, but they may not fit standard imaging equipment, operating tables, or wheelchairs.

Obesity Jumps in Adolescence

Another study presented this week at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity 2003 Annual Scientific Meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., shows that more than two million American adolescents became obese and another 1.5 remained obese as they grew into adulthood from 1996 to 2001.

"At the beginning, 11% of the teens studied were obese, and as they aged and became young adults, 22% were obese," says researcher Penny Gordon-Larsen, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a news release.

Researchers surveyed a nationwide sample of 9,561 teens in 1996 and again five years later when they were ages 18 to 26 and found older adolescents were more likely to become or remain obese than their younger peers.

The study also showed that minorities had particularly high rates of obesity. Researchers found that more than 18% of black females and 14% of males, and 15% of Hispanic females became obese during the study period.

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