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Obesity – The New Epidemic

Dr. Carabin is the President and Medical Director of Women’s Health Sciences Institute, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, located in Vero Beach, FL.

United States is currently plagued by a new epidemic – obesity. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2000, 64 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese. Overweight refers to an excess of body weight compared to agreed upon standards. Obesity refers specifically to having an abnormally high proportion of body fat.[i] Obesity occurs when a person consumes more calories than are burned, resulting in the deposition of fat. There is no single cause of human obesity; several factors can be involved ranging from genetic, to behavioral, and physiological.

Most methods in ascertaining the condition of being overweight or obesity are based on the relation between height and weight; others are based on measurements of body fat. The most commonly used method today for measuring overweight or obesity is the body mass index (BMI). BMI is a calculation based on height and weight, and it is not gender-specific. The mathematical formula for calculating the BMI is:

BMI = weight (kg) / height squared (m2)

Obesity is found worldwide. In the United States, overweight/obesity have become a problem over the last several decades, as demonstrated by their steadily increased prevalence affecting all ages, genders, and socioeconomic status.[ii] For example, the prevalence of obesity (BMI[iii] > 30) more than doubled from 13.3 to 30.9 percent between 1960 and 2000, while the prevalence of extreme (morbid) obesity (BMI > 40) increased from 2.9 to 4.7 percent between 1988 and 2000.[iv]

Until recently, health care providers often relied on weight-for-height tables that have a range of acceptable weights for a person of a given height. Unfortunately, there are many versions of these tables, all with different weight ranges. Therefore, in an effort to update old and inaccurate methods in ascertaining overweight or obesity, many Govern