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Obesity Epidemic Balloons to New Girth

New CDC Numbers Show 32% of Adults Are Obese

Health Risks of Obesity

"These overweight kids are on track for continued obesity into adulthood unless big changes are made," Stampfer says. "They are at high risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis -- all the bad things that happen more to people who are overweight."

The problem, Ogden suggests, is that a boom in consumption of high-calorie food has collided with a trend toward less exercise. And as humans, we are genetically programmed to save all this excess energy as fat.

"We have increasing food portion sizes, we eat out more, we have changes in the composition of the diet," she says. "There has been survey data showing an increase in calorie consumption. And physical activity -- well, we are not very active. There have been increases in screen time for kids. The general thing is it is a complex problem related to many things, including our environment, our actions, and our genes."

Society's Role

These overweight kids may be heading for deep trouble unless -- as a society -- we act, Stampfer says.

"Overweight kids and teens are not doomed," he says. "But once you get into the lifestyle that promotes obesity, it is hard to turn that around. Kids don't run around and play as they did in the old days. Their play is a lot more sedentary, there is a commercial push for a lot of unhealthy foods, there is less physical activity, and there is less physical education in schools. It is a huge health problem with a big economic cost to our country. It just needs to be taken seriously and not brushed off."

At the very tip of the obesity iceberg are the "extremely obese" -- people with a BMI of 40 or more, who generally are twice their recommended weight or 100 pounds overweight. They are almost certain to suffer poor health and are at high risk of early death.

Nearly 3% of men and 7% of women are in this category, Ogden and colleagues report.

"Extreme obesity is a continued trend. And it is just horrible," Stampfer says. "They are at such increased risk for so many bad outcomes. These people used to be real rarities, and now they are common."

You don't have to be extremely obese to suffer health problems. An overweight America is a public health problem.

"Up to now, it has been seen as the individual's problem: People say, 'They got fat, why can't they exert some self-control?'" Stampfer says. "But the 'they' is more than half the population. We as a society need to take hold of this."

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