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US losing the battle of the bulge

The National Institute of Health has spent over $1 billion on research alone since 2003 when it set up a task force on obesity, reports Sunita Aron.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2006 02:35 IST

In the United States, finding clothes that fit may not be that easy, if you are diminutive. But if your size is ‘XXXX Large’, you can go wild while shopping — the bigger you are, the wider your choice. 

Burning fat is one burning problem to which the US has no viable solution. This is clearly visible on US streets as well as in US official data, making it hard to believe that the government had ever launched a much-hyped war against obesity.

The National Institute of Health has spent over $1 billion on research alone since 2003 when it set up a task force on obesity — acknowledging that it was an epidemic infecting all age groups across the country.

The national objective was to reduce the prevalence of obesity in adults by 15 per cent by the year 2010. In fact, far from decreasing, the extent of obesity seems to be rising.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the year 2003-2004, the latest available, indicated that 66 per   cent adults were either overweight or obese. Though many states have enacted laws to check the sale of junk food in schools and launched campaigns to prod children into playing games on the field rather than on their computers, the survey’s findings showed an increasing trend of obesity among children and adolescents as well.

Lee Bowman, health reporter at the Scripps Howard News Agency (SHNA), said  that given the pace at which the population of fat people was growing, the government may need another 50 years to fulfill its national mission. Every time the government tries to pass stringent laws to check the fat content in prepared foods, he alleged,  the strong food lobby in the country opposes it tooth and nail, and often succeeds in blocking or diluting them.

According to the data provided by  the  Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity began rising in the US from the early 1990s. Only four states showed high obesity levels — between 15 and 19 per cent — then. Today it is just the opposite: only four states have low obesity levels, in all the remaining 46 the levels are close to 20 per cent or even higher. 

Obesity is also proving expensive for the nation, with an estimated $117 billion spent on it over the years, in direct and indirect medical costs. “Here the poor are fatter as they don’t eat nutritious food,” said Lisa Hoffman, also with the
SHNA. They consume processed fast foods which are cheap, but fattening, while wholesome food is expensive. She also noted that obesity was more prevalent among minority groups.

As of now the government is closely watching the progress of the combat strategy plan adopted by National Institute of Health in 2003.

Flab on India’s mind too

India too may soon include obesity in its list of non-communicable chronic diseases. “There is a growing demand to include obesity,” said Naresh Dayal, Union Health Secretary.” We are seriously considering it now that new data on the mortality rate due to non communicable diseases has come to our notice”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently indicated that deaths due to non communicable diseases was likely to rise in the future, while those due to communicable diseases may fall. The WHO has estimated that 50 per cent of all new cases of diabetes are detected in India and China. Obesity is one of the main triggers that lead to diabetes. According obesity expert Dr Mahendra Narwaria, an estimated 2.2 crore people are obese in India.