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Weight Control

Feds Unveil Weight Guidelines in Wake of Alarming Report on Cost of Obesity; Women Affected Most

As reports revealing the increasing number of overweight individuals in the nation — and the healthcare costs and impact of obesity — continue to be released, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has unveiled its first weight guidelines.

The new guidelines set a Body Mass Index of 25 as the definition of "overweight." Previously, a BMI of 26 or above was considered overweight. They also call for individuals whose BMI is 30 or more, or those with two or more disease risk factors, to immediately attempt to lose 10 percent of their body weight.

In conjunction with the new guidelines, the government is planning a campaign to help overweight consumers achieve weight loss.

The NIH guidelines follow a call by Dr. C. Everett Koop, former U.S. surgeon general, to step up efforts to make the prevention and treatment of obesity a national priority.

"The staggering costs of obesity affect all Americans in higher healthcare costs and lost productivity. Just on the basis of cost alone, obesity has mushroomed into a public health crisis," Koop said, noting that the economic impact of obesity is now comparable to that of diabetes, and ranks with what is spent nationally on heart disease and hypertension.

Koop's remarks were sparked by a study released earlier this year in Obesity Research, which attributed nearly 6 percent of the nation's healthcare expenditures, or almost $100 billion, to obesity.

"If there was any question that obesity has reached crisis proportions in this country, these new cost estimates should put these doubts to rest," Koop said. "Obesity is now a pervasive public health problem that can no longer be overlooked."

The Inequality of Women and Obesity

It also is a problem that is taking a greater toll on women, research finds — in terms of health expenditures as well as quality of life.

In terms of physician office visits, the recent study found that women spend significantly more time and money seeing a doctor for obesity-related conditions than do men. Specifically, in 1994, 67 percent of office visits were for obese women.

Additionally, 70 percent of lost work days were taken by obese women, the researchers found, and these women accounted for 89 percent of total restricted activity days and 89 percent of total bed days in 1994.

At the same time, obese women are disproportionately afflicted by diseases associated with obesity — i.e., diseases that worsen or improve as the degree of obesity increases or decreases.

Specifically, the researchers found that 63.5 percent of the cases of Type II diabetes were diagnosed in obese women. Further, women at an unhealthy weight had a two-fold greater risk for developing osteoarthritis, especially in the knee.

"When it comes to obesity, women are truly disadvantaged," said Dr. Barbara J. Moore, president of Shape Up America! "Not only are they more likely to become immobilized by obesity than are men, but they become less able to run errands, buy groceries and lead independent lives. They take to their bed more often and lose wages as a result."

Body Image Pyramid Launched

And while NIH prepares its consumer weight-loss campaign, Shape Up America! and Kellogg's® Special K® Cereal have teamed up to promote a body image equivalent to the Food Guide Pyramid.

Based on the universal symbol for women often seen in airports, restaurants and other community settings, the new graphic promotes four steps for women to achieve a healthier lifestyle:

Eat healthy foods. Choose more grains, vegetables and fruits.

Refuse to skip meals. Eat three meals a day. Start with breakfast.

Keep moving. Add 30 minutes of extra activity every day.

Be positive. Make every day into a great one.

"These steps are not rocket science, but they are the keys to success in achieving a healthier weight and improved health," Moore said. "The goal is to end the confusion by letting women know that a positive mindset and some simple changes in diet and activity can add up to big dividends in terms of better health."

The national campaign is designed to address a serious problem affecting women's health: a lack of self-esteem about body image, fueled by women's anxieties about their weight. The new campaign promotes the idea that a positive mindset about body image is the first step in making a healthier weight possible.

Research indicates that shifts in attitudes about body weight are key to achieving a better mental and physical well-being. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, for example, found that the vast majority of overweight people who gave in to the reality of their body shape — 82 percent — learned new approaches to eating and exercise that resulted in losing weight and keeping the pounds off after two years.

To complement Shape Up America!'s effort, Special K will be distributing the new symbol through Kellogg's Consumer Affairs Department. Consumers can get a free symbol by calling (800) 962-0130. For more information about Shape Up America!, you can visit the Web site at

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing