CDC: Obesity Is Still an Epidemic
Excess Weight Is Dangerous, Despite Controversy
WebMD News Archive
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
The comments come several weeks after an April study concluded that
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
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
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.
Obesity's estimated costs in health treatments and lost productivity rose
from $52 billion in 1995 to $75 billion in 2003, she said.
Despite debates about obesity as a cause of death, there is little argument
about its impact as a cause of disease. Excess weight is known to be a major
contributor to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases,
arthritis, and some forms of cancer.
"What we don't want is for this debate to continue to confuse
people," Gerberding says. "We're dealing with a health threat that
affects people at every stage of life."
Also Thursday, The Institute of Medicine released a report looking at how
scientists should estimate the impact of lifestyle factors like obesity on
The report concludes that officials should avoid "misleading terms like
obesity" and warns researchers "not to rush to judgment about the
growing prevalence of obesity."
The agency is taking the IOM report "to heart," Gerberding said.