Obesity Epidemic Not Slowing Down
> 5/13/2008 2:26:33 PM

The Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) interviewed nearly 7,000 American adults aged 45-84 from every major ethnic group who had not been diagnosed with any clinical cardiovascular disease when the project began in 2000-2002. The longitudinal nature of the survey allowed researchers to come to a few conclusions: far too many of us are indeed seriously overweight; the condition will continue to be a major drain on public health resources; obesity can lead to any number of potentially lethal cardiovascular conditions including but hardly limited to heart attack and stroke. Collectively speaking, 2/3 of the white, African-American and Latino subjects participating in this study were overweight. An amazing "one-third to one-half" were obese with BMIs of 30 or higher. And a considerable portion of that number have already begun to feel the effects of their extra weight in the form of poor cardiovascular health. These startling numbers have been stated before, and they show no sign of change.

To restate previous points that a considerable share of the American public desperately need to know, our rates of obesity continue to climb after almost tripling between 1960 and 2000, and obese individuals register dramatically higher blood pressure, cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes readings than members of the general public, despite the fact that they also take exorbitant amounts of medication for these very conditions. While none of the subjects in this survey had experienced any symptoms pointing to heart attack or stroke at the time it began, those who were obese recently began to suffer significantly higher rates of some of the most severe risk factors. These include a 17% greater risk of coronary artery calicum, which leads to hardening of the arteries; a 45% greater risk of having artery walls thick enough to qualify as markers for artherosclerosis; and a 270% greater risk of having a left ventricle chamber large enough to bypass the dangerous 80th percentile mark. Obese individuals also have significantly higher levels of 3 immune system proteins responsible for inflammation. A near-doubling of only one of those 3, interleukin 6, leads to an 84% greater risk of eventual heart failure.

Most dangerous is a phenomenon known as the metabolic syndrome. This condition arises from a combination of high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high cholesterol, and excessive abdominal fat, and it doubles a person's chance of experiencing congenital heart failure (as of the study's latest press release, at least 79 of its participants already have). These destructive changes can occur very quickly - remember that not a single one of the subjects had any pre-existing symptoms of heart disease when the study began less than 8 years ago. Researchers warn that our seeming inability to contain our own lifestyles threatens to "reverse our 50-year decline in cardiovascular disease mortality" in spite of continuing advances in health care technology. The only group seemingly excluded from this horrific health trend was Chinese-Americans, whose extremely modest 5% obesity rate could (and probably should) serve as a model for the rest of us, by proving that extreme weight gain is not inevitable.

Reasonable diets, 7-9 hours of sleep a night and, most importantly, regular exercise are all factors that can lead to healthier lives. An estimated 72 million of us are dramatically overweight, and the numbers don't look to be changing too much despite a growing public awareness of the problem. This might be because we still tend to view obesity as an aesthetic issue, elevating the importance of our appearance over the basic lifestyle choices that can improve the way our bodies function. It's a view that we need to change.

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