Satcher: Obesity Reaching Crisis Levels

ByABC News
December 12, 2001, 3:56 PM

Dec. 13 -- Citing an epidemic of obesity, Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher today called on communities and schools to help children and adults lose weight and stay healthy.

Satcher identified schools as central to efforts to prevent and decrease excess weight problems, and recommended they improve physical education programs and provide healthy food alternatives. Communities also must offer safe places to exercise, he urged.

"Many people believe that dealing with overweight and obesity is a personal responsibility," Satcher states in the forward to the report. "To some degree they are right, but it is also a community responsibility."

Obesity Growing Across Age Groups

An estimated 300,000 deaths may be attributed to obesity in the United States each year, and more than 60 percent of adults in 1999 could be classified as overweight or obese, according to the new report from the surgeon general.

But the problem is not just a concern for adults. The prevalence of obesity for adolescents has nearly tripled in the past two decades, making early intervention all the more critical.

According to the report, in 1999, 13 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 and 14 percent of those aged 12 to 19 were overweight.

"Whereas one time obesity was a condition that usually afflicted more middle-aged women, now it has swept across the entire age span, even down to several years old," says Dr. Steven Heymsfield, deputy director of the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

And the younger a person begins to carry excess weight, the greater the potential impact on their future quality of life. Weight gain and obesity are major contributors to poor health, increasing the risk of a number of medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, and even certain cancers.

According to the report, obese individuals have a 50 to 100 percent greater risk of premature death from all causes compared to individuals without excess weight.