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Published: Fall, 2005; Vol 7, Num 3

Prepare to do Battle:

Late Life Weight Gain Is Near Certainty

After more than a year of escalating social and medical commentary, you probably know by now (if you didn’t know before) that you should watch your weight and avoid obesity. Maintaining a healthy weight will substantially reduce your risk of heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Since losing weight is hard work – requiring a lifestyle change to incorporate regular exercise and substantial dietary modifications – if you’re not overweight, you’re probably happy that you’ve escaped this difficult burden. Unfortunately, we’re here to tell you, don’t be complacent!

According to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, nine out of ten men and seven out of ten women will become overweight over the long haul of their lives.

Half of the men and women in the long-term study made it well into adulthood with no evidence of a weight problem. Yet, a third of those men and a quarter of those women eventually become obese.

The findings added merit to other cross-sectional “snapshots” of obesity in the U.S. which were the basis for much of the new emphasis on weight management that has swept the country in recent years. According to those studies, about six in ten Americans are overweight, and more than three in ten are obese. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (a commonly-used height and weight comparison) greater than 30.

Clearly, the recent study indicates that the nation’s problem could get worse as today’s younger and middle-aged populations get older. This likelihood is further supported by other studies that indicate that more children are overweight or obese than ever before. Also, because all the subjects in the recent, long-term study originated from a cluster in Framingham, Massachusetts, virtually none are African- or Hispanic-Americans. Yet statistically, minorities are more at-risk of obesity than the Caucasian majority, so the study may actually under-report the overall risk of late-in-life obesity.

Due to the sedentary nature of office work, Americans’ general lack of physical exercise, the prevalence of sugar and sweeteners in their diets and the large food portions they often consume, the study’s authors wrote that Americans live in “an environment in which it’s hard not to become overweight or obese. Unless people work against that, that’s what’s most likely to happen to them.”

We all need to heed this warning. Even if you’re in good shape now, you must work to keep yourself that way. A healthy diet and regular exercise are a must for everyone.

[Steve Clark]