As obesity skyrockets, Joslin Diabetes Center urges action to stem the tide of type 2 diabetes

03/10/04

BOSTON – As reported yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 129.6 million Americans, or 64 percent of the population, are overweight or obese. As obesity in America has become an epidemic over the past decade, the rate of type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to obesity, has skyrocketed. It is estimated that 18.2 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and over 90 percent of those have type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, the percentage of adults with diabetes increased 65 percent from 1990 to 2001.

"Statistically, adults in the U.S. have gained 2 billion pounds over the past decade, which is an average of one pound per year per person. This is true for both men and women," says C. Ronald Kahn, M.D., President and Director, Joslin Diabetes Center. "For every one pound increase in weight, there is a 3 to 4 percent increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, or about 800,000 new cases. We urge individual Americans to take steps to reduce their own risk of diabetes, but I also believe prevention must be a priority for the healthcare industry, the food industry and the government."

The issue for individual Americans, Dr. Kahn says, is not whether a low fat diet is better than a low carbohydrate diet or vice versa. "It boils down to how much we eat and how active we are," he says.

"While research at Joslin and elsewhere has shown that genetics and metabolic factors play a key role in body weight, we know that Americans' expanding waistlines can be tightened with at least two simple changes – portion control and increased physical activity. No matter what diet regimen you advocate, a calorie is a calorie," Dr. Kahn says. "The overall caloric intake in the U.S. is simply too high. Americans are eating too much. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, you will become overweight."

The good news is that that research at Joslin and elsewhere showed that losing modest amounts of weight – say, 10 pounds – and walking 30 minutes daily reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent among adults at risk.

"However," Dr. Kahn continued, "I believe we can accelerate our efforts to decrease obesity and type 2 diabetes if the government, the food industry and the health care industry partner for prevention."

Dr. Kahn applauds the federal government for making its obesity campaign a priority. But much more can be done. "More restaurants – both fast food and fancy food -- should re-examine their offerings as McDonald's did last week when it announced plans to eliminate its supersized offerings. The food industry needs to boost its efforts to clearly label nutrition facts and cut marketing of unhealthy, high calorie snacks to kids. Too often are consumers fooled by foods that look healthy but are excessively calorically dense, like mixtures of yogurt and fruit whips, or by misleading caloric information, like reporting calories on a giant cookie snack assuming the portion eaten will be only one quarter of the cookie. And the health care and health insurance industries must not only increase study of the fundamental mechanisms of obesity and diabetes, but also the focus on public education," he said.

"These efforts will also go a long way to curbing the increasing incidence of obesity in children that is contributing to the increasing rate of type 2 diabetes in young people," Dr. Kahn says.

Childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s. It is now estimated that 15 percent of children and adolescents in America (9 million) are either overweight or obese. "This is truly a time bomb for further fueling the epidemic of type 2 diabetes. And we must remember that people with diabetes are at risk for serious long-term complications, including heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and amputations," he adds.

Dr. Kahn, the Mary K. Iacocca Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, in 1999 chaired the Diabetes Research Working Group, a Congressionally-mandated panel that developed recommendations for diabetes research and helped establish a five-year National Institutes of Health diabetes research budget.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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