Childhood obesity an epidemic in New Jersey

By Dr. Josh Palgi

Obesity is an epidemic in the US.

This condition is putting people at higher risk for serious diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. According to the Centers of Diabetes Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that more than 79 million adults (or 35.7%) and more than 12.5 million children (or 16.9 percent) in the U.S are classified as obese. It is the fifth highest rate of obesity in the world. In New Jersey, 31 percent of children ages 10-17 are overweight or obese.

Currently, the direct and indirect costs of obesity are more than $190 billion annually. In the U.S., childhood obesity has resulted in 47 percent higher medical costs compared to medical expenses for children with a healthy weight.

Obesity is a leading preventable cause of death worldwide, with increasing prevalence in adults and children and the medical profession views it as one of the most serious public health problems of the 21st century. In 2013, the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease.

Obesity is a chronic medical disease that is difficult to treat and has a high relapse rate. Greater than 95 percent of those who lost weight regain the weight within five years.

Even though medications and diets can help, the treatment of obesity cannot be a short-term fix but has to be a lifelong commitment to proper diet habits, increased physical activity and regular exercise.

People are considered obese when their body mass index (BMI), obtained by dividing a person’s body weight in kilograms by the square of the persons height in meters, exceeds 30 kg/m2.

The most commonly used definitions, established by the world health organization (WHO) in 1977 and published in 2000, provides the values listed in the table 1, below.

Although it is considered a useful way to estimate healthy body weight, it does not measure the percentage of body fat. The BMI measurement can sometimes be misleading – a muscular person may have a high BMI but have much less fat than an unfit person whose BMI is lower. However, in general, the BMI mea- surement can be a useful indicator for the average person.

When expressed by percentage of body fat, obesity is defined as having body fat above 32 percent for women, 25 percent for men, 30 percent for girls and 25 percent for boys. Comprehensive approaches are being looked at to address the rising rates of obesity. The National Institute of Health (NIH) and diverse efforts of many federal agencies and pub- lic and private organization are working together toward understanding the complex interplay of the environmental social and behavioral factors, acting on a genetic susceptibility.

Given the importance of the obesity epidemic as a public health problem, and it’s relevance to the mission of the NIH, the NIH obesity research task force was established to accelerate progress in obesity research.

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