Archive for Sunday, January 19, 2003

Obesity a lethal risk if overlooked

January 19, 2003


Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles that will be provided by Kansas Senior Press Service in 2003. Twelve professionals will talk about concerns they have for their clients, patients and citizens, as they are growing older.

Obesity among adults has doubled since 1980. More than half of all American adults are considered overweight or obese. Nearly 20 percent of American adults meet the classification of obesity. In the 50+ age group, obesity is highest among 50-64 year olds.

New Years' resolutions and those added holiday pounds make this a subject that is on many minds (and waistlines). Those holiday pounds that are added, chances are they may be there to stay.

One study suggests an average weight gain of about a pound during the holiday season. This may not seem important. It is that pound plus those extra pounds added through the years that is the major contributor to obesity in later life.

Obesity increases a person's risk for four of the six top causes of death in the United States: heart disease, certain cancers, stroke and diabetes. It also contributes to arthritis-related disabilities and high blood pressure. Along with chronic disease, obesity may limit the functional mobility, independence and life of older adults.

All of these health risks associated with obesity carries a health care price tag that can be avoided. A study in Health Affairs found that prescription drug costs are 77 percent higher among obese than non-obese Americans. The study also estimated that obesity led to an annual average increase in health care costs of $395 per person.

What is considered overweight or obese?

According to the Institute of Medicine, obesity is defined as an excess of body fat. Overweight refers to an excess of body weight that includes fat, bone and muscle.

One indicator that is consistently used by health professionals to assess for overweight and obesity is the Body Mass Index or BMI. A BMI of 25 to 30 indicates overweight, while a BMI of greater than 30 indicates obesity.

To estimate the BMI using a person's weight and height is relatively simple if you are good in math. Take the weight in pounds divide by twice the height in inches. Multiply this total by 703 to get the BMI.

For example, a person weighing 210 pounds and 6 feet tall would have a BMI that equals 210 pounds divided by 72 inches, divided by 72 inches (again), multiplied by 703 equals 28.5.

If you need to shed weight or to maintain a healthy weight, here are basic steps:

1. Set an idealistic goal for what your body weight should be.

2. Eat a balanced diet. The best suggestion is to follow the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

3. Exercise. This is a must, especially during the winter months when it is difficult to get outside. For older adults, moderate amount of activity can come from even mild exercise.

-- If you have a question or comment for Sense for Seniors, write to Betty Gibb, Kansas Senior Press Service, 11875 S. Sunset, Suite 200, Olathe 66061. Or you can call (913) 477-8103 or send e-mail to

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