A New Generation
Of Super-Fat People

By Jeremy Laurance
Health Editor
The Independent - UK

"The latest figures from the US published yesterday reveal the number of people who are more than 100lb overweight... has quadrupled since the mid-Eighties."
Another day, another diet. But despite the endless round of new fads aimed at slimming Britain, people are getting fatter. Slowly but relentlessly the pounds are piling on, aided by sedentary lifestyles and the ruthless marketing of sweet and fatty meals by multinational companies.
Yet another disturbing fact emerged in the story of obesity yesterday. The fattest people are getting fatter still.
The latest figures from the US published yesterday reveal the number of people who are more than 100lb overweight - known as severe or morbid obesity - has quadrupled since the mid-Eighties.
Overweight people are piling on the pounds so fast they are creating a new generation of the superfat. The problem is developing in Britain too. Ian Campbell, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said that in the UK morbid obesity, defined as a body mass index of 40 or above, had increased by half in the last seven years to about 17 in 1,000 people.
Dr Campbell, speaking at the first National Obesity Forum Congress in London yesterday, said Britain was the fattest nation in Europe and the costs of treating obesity, estimated at £500m a year, were a burden on the NHS.
He said: "We must work together and encourage those battling with their weight to take responsibility for themselves. There are no quick fixes, and no easy answers exist.
"The number of obese people is increasing a lot faster than the number who are overweight. The reason is that 70 per cent of those with a tendency to obesity is genetically determined. That means you can feed and feed certain people [without the genetic predisposition] and they won't put weight on."
The US study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that the number of superfat people with a body mass index above 40 increased from about one in 200 of the population in 1986 to one in 50 of the population in 2000.
Those with a body mass index over 50 - sometimes known as super-obesity and equivalent to about 200lb overweight - rose five fold from one in 2,000 to one in 400.
Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation, in Santa Monica, California, and the chief author of the study, said the most dramatic part of the obesity epidemic - the growth of the superfat - had remained hidden but was increasing twice as fast as the rise in ordinary obesity.
"As the whole population shifts to the right [becoming heavier], the extreme categories grow the fastest. The traditional clinical approach of targeting high risk cases is only temporary and palliative in this situation, but cannot stem the trend," he said.
That gloomy prognosis is the same around the world. Waistlines are expanding in every country in the developed world. As prosperity grows so does girth. Cinema and aeroplane seats have been steadily widened over the past half century to accommodate expanding bottoms, and a rough guide to national income can be gained from the average dress or trouser size.
In the US, makers of super size coffins to accommodate the superfat report that business is brisk and demand is increasing.
In the UK, one-fifth of men and a quarter of women are obese (with a body mass index of 30 or over) and 24 million adults are overweight or obese. This compares with 8 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men classified as obese in 1980.
To combat the problem, Tony Blair is to launch a new campaign in the new year to get Britain moving.
Using the Olympic bid as a catalyst, the Prime Minister wants John Reid, the Health Secretary, Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary and Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary to devise a strategy to get people on to the sports field and into the gym.
The Government has been persuaded that getting the nation fit should be one of the top public health priorities if it is to avoid huge NHS bills and a population disabled by chronic illness such as osteoarthritis, heart disease and diabetes.
Lack of exercise is one of the two main factors for the growth in obesity. The other is an abundance of packaged food, packed with calories.
The numbers affected by obesity have tripled in the past 20 years. It causes 9,000 premature deaths a year and cuts life expectancy by an average of nine years. The first cases of Type 2 diabetes, which usually occurs in adulthood and is related to increasing weight, have been observed in children.
Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's Chief Medical Officer in June described the data as "chilling" and showed "the prospect of an epidemic of obesity in this country as has happened in the US."
He called on the food industry to cut levels of fat, sugar and salt in processed foods, and said the cases of diabetes in children were "a warning to us of the potential time-bomb that is ticking away."
Scientists describe it as the "silent epidemic" and warn that if we continue to pile on the pounds at the present rate three-quarters of the population could suffer the ill effects of excess weight within 10 to 15 years. They accuse governments of being cowardly in the face of the huge interests of the food and transport industries.
Andrew Prentice, professor of international nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine predicted that children could die before their parents as a result of feasting on high-calorie junk food and spending their days slouched in front of the television and computer.
"The kids of today aren't gluttonous or lazy. They have been ambushed by living in an environment where they haven't seen any different," he told the British Association's Science festival last year.
Across the EU an estimated 135 million people are overweight and the condition is believed to be the cause of 78,000 new cases of cancer each year. The costs of obesity have been estimated at up to 8 per cent of overall health budgets.
Excess body weight is the most common childhood disorder in Europe affecting one child in six according to the International Obesity Task Force. Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults, aided by advertising of soft drinks and fast foods, vending machines that sell confectionery and safety conscious parents who are afraid to let their children walk or cycle to school or to play outside.
In the UK, the Government has launched the national school fruit scheme and initiated measures to ensure healthier foods are sold from vending machines and school tuckshops. But it will take more than handing out apples at break time to counter the pressures that have already caused the most dramatic shift in human body shape in evolutionary history.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd




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