Gaining on Fat; Diet and Health; Exclusive Online Issues; by W. Wayt Gibbs; 6 Page(s)
Throughout most of human history, a wide girth has been viewed as a sign of health and prosperity. It seems both ironic and fitting, then, that corpulence now poses a growing threat to the health of many inhabitants of the richest nations. The measure of the hazard in the U.S. is well known: 59 percent of the adult population meets the current definition of clinical obesity, according to a 1995 report by the Institute of Medicine, easily qualifying the disease for epidemic status. Epidemiologists at Harvard University conservatively estimate that treating obesity and the diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and gallstones caused by it rang up $45.8 billion in health care costs in 1990, the latest year studied. Indirect costs because of missed work pitched another $23 billion onto the pile. That year, a congressional committee calculated, Americans spent about $33 billion on weight-loss products and services. Yet roughly 300,000 men and women were sent early to their graves by the damaging effects of eating too much and moving too little.
The problem is as frustrating as it is serious. Quick and easy solutions - liquid diets, support groups, acupressure, appetite-suppressing "aroma sticks" and even the best-intentioned attempts to eat less and exercise more - have all failed in well-controlled trials to reduce the weight of more than a small fraction of their obese adherents by at least 10 percent for five years - an achievement shown to increase life expectancy sharply.