The statistics are alarming: About 65% of Americans are now overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of obese adults (those with a Body Mass Index of 30 or more) jumped from 15% in 1980 to 27% in 1999. More than 15% of children from 6 to 19 years were overweight in 2000, which is three times higher than in 1980.
Why are we as a nation getting fatter? "A hundred and fifty years ago, a sedentary lifestyle was considered to be that of a farmer's wife," says Richard Simon, MD, a sleep specialist in Walla Walla, WA. "Our levels of physical activity have plummeted, along with our caloric expenditure, yet our caloric intake has not declined. When caloric expenditure declines and caloric intake does not decline, weight gain occurs.
"We're also getting less sleep than we used to," Simon adds. "Add all of those features together, and we have a perfect model for obesity."
This epidemic of obesity is particularly serious for children. The CDC says that 1 in 3 American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes, and children under 10 years of age are already developing type 2 diabetes, which is primarily seen in adults—usually not until past the age of 40.
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to hypertension and increased risk of heart attack. It also damages the eyes, kidneys and other vital organs. The earlier one develops the disease, the greater the potential for long-term damage, especially if the diabetes isn't diagnosed and brought under treatment.
The problem of obesity in children is a major concern for another reason: the increased incidence of sleep apnea. A 20-year review of obesity-associated diseases among children aged 6 to 17 conducted by the CDC found a significant increase in hospital discharges for a number of obesity-related medical conditions. Discharges for sleep apnea increased 436%.
The problem is no less serious for adults. An estimated 18 million Americans have sleep apnea, which is often associated with people who are overweight. "As the person gains weight, especially in the trunk and neck area,