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Friday, June 30, 2006

Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity

Poor nutrition and physical inactivity are associated with an increased risk of a number of chronic health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, high blood pressure, as well as overweight and obesity. Fifty-nine million U.S. adults are obese. Over the past 10 years, obesity has increased 60 percent among U.S. adults. Sixteen percent of U.S. children and adolescents age 6-19 are overweight. Since 1980, being overweight has doubled for children and tripled for adolescents.

Annual direct medical expenses attributable to obesity in the United States were estimated at $75 billion for 2003. Taxpayers fund about half of these obesity-attributable expenditures through Medicare and Medicaid. Obesity causes many thousands of deaths in adults and, in the United States, is related to about:

  • Two-thirds of Type 2 diabetes
  • Two-thirds of heart disease
  • 15% of cancer in men and 20% of cancer in women.

Obesity also causes disabilities, pain and suffering, and negatively affects mobility and other quality-of-life measures.

Promoting regular physical activity and healthy eating and creating an environment that supports these behaviors can reduce this epidemic of obesity and make losing weight that much easier. To respond to the complex combination of social, cultural, environmental and behavioral factors that contributes to the growing number of obese Americans, efforts are underway to raise awareness and encourage healthy eating and a more active lifestyle. Policymakers are striving to promote opportunities for physical activity and nutritious food choices in schools, workplaces, and communities.

Regular physical activity reduces risk for heart attack, colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and may reduce risk for stroke. It also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints; reduces falls among older adults; helps to relieve the pain of arthritis; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; and is associated with fewer hospitalizations, physician visits, and medications. Physical activity need not be strenuous to be beneficial; people of all ages benefit from moderate physical activity, such as 30 minutes of brisk walking five or more times a week. Despite the proven benefits of physical activity, more than 50% of American adults do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits and 26% are not active at all in their leisure time.

Research also shows that healthy eating lowers people’s risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Yet a large gap remains between nutrition recommendations and what Americans actually eat. Only about one-fourth of U.S. adults eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day for healthy living and weight loss.

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