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 Monday, 5 April 2004 05:30 PM GMT

In a recent government study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that obesity is fast approaching tobacco as the top underlying preventable cause of death in the USA.

Thirty-four percent of U.S. adults are considered overweight, and an additional 31 percent are obese.

Anyone with a body mass index (a ratio between your height and weight) of 25 or above -- that?s someone, for example, who is 5-foot-4 and 145 pounds -- is considered overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health. Anyone with a body mass index of 30 or above -- such as someone who is 5-foot-6 and 186 pounds -- is considered obese. Check your body mass index here!

The results of the new study appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In 2000, poor diet including obesity and physical inactivity caused 400,000 U.S. deaths -- more than 16 percent of all deaths and the No. 2 killer. That compares with 435,000 for tobacco, or 18 percent, as the top underlying killer.

According to the study the gap between the two is substantially narrower than in 1990, when poor diet and inactivity caused 300,000 deaths, 14 percent, compared with 400,000 for tobacco, or 19 percent, says a report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like tobacco, obesity and inactivity increase the risks for the top three killers: heart disease, cancer and cerebrovascular ailments including strokes. Obesity and inactivity also strongly increase the risk of diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death.

The leading causes of death in 2000 were tobacco (435 000 deaths; 18.1% of total US deaths), poor diet and physical inactivity (400 000 deaths; 16.6%), and alcohol consumption (85 000 deaths; 3.5%). Other actual causes of death were microbial agents (75 000), toxic agents (55 000), motor vehicle crashes (43 000), incidents involving firearms (29 000), sexual behaviors (20 000), and illicit use of drugs (17 000).

The underlying preventable causes of death were, in order: tobacco, poor diet and physical inactivity, alcohol, microbial agents, toxic agents, motor vehicles, firearms, sexual behavior and illegal drug use. Together, these accounted for about half of all 2.4 million U.S. deaths in 2000.

Americans spend more than $33 billion a year on weight-loss products and services. However, the economic cost of obesity in the United States was about $117 billion in 2000.

It has been estimated that at any one time about 45 percent of women and 25 percent of men are trying to lose weight, but only one-fifth are using the recommended combination of fewer calories and increased exercise.

References

Ali H. Mokdad, PhD; James S. Marks, MD, MPH; Donna F. Stroup, PhD, MSc; Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH. Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000. JAMA. 2004;291:1238-1245.

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