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msnbc.com
updated 7/1/2005 11:46:33 AM ET 2005-07-01T15:46:33

When a new government report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that moderate overweight may not affect death rates as much as previously thought, many Americans reacted with confusion and frustration, as they recalled numerous messages about the dangers of skyrocketing obesity.

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Although the actual fatalities from moderate overweight may be lower than originally estimated, the harm from excess weight is real. Serious health problems, the costs of treating such problems and quality of life issues should encourage all of us to avoid as much excess weight as we can.

Weight studies generally describe weight in terms of the Body Mass Index (BMI), which expresses weight in proportion to height. There is little question about the dangers of excessive weight called obesity, defined as a BMI of 30 or more. However, research is less clear about the impact of moderate overweight, which registers as a BMI of 25 to 30.

Part of the uncertainty about the effects of moderate overweight revolves around the level of a person’s fitness compared to their fatness. Some researchers suggest that physically fit people in this category have less health risks than inactive people.

Other researchers emphasize the negative influence of any excess weight.

Heart, diabetes, cancer risks
A study in Finland found that among adults who had never smoked, the risk of heart disease was two times higher in men and 1.6 times higher in women with BMIs of 25 to 29.9, compared to people with a BMI under 25.

Obesity raised the risk of heart disease even more. In the same study, moderate overweight was linked with a substantially greater need for long-term medications and more years on work disability.

In addition to heart disease, moderate overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure, especially before the age of 55, by 30 to 90 percent. Medications to control blood pressure can be costly and can adversely affect people’s quality of life.

Diabetes is another major danger related to weight and a sedentary lifestyle. Studies show that moderate overweight increases the risk of it more than three-fold – making overweight a more significant risk factor for diabetes than lack of exercise – while obesity increases the risk more than nine-fold. Adult weight gain is especially problematic. In one study, for every two pounds adult men gained their risk of developing diabetes increased by about 7 percent.

Moderate overweight also increases a person’s overall cancer risk, according to a landmark report on diet and cancer from the American Institute for Cancer Research. The report highlights the dangers of weight gain in adults. This weight gain may activate hormones and growth factors that promote cancer development. A recent report on breast cancer confirms the harmful impact of moderate overweight and adult weight gain on breast cancer risk.

Lastly, the smaller ways in which excess weight damages and stresses the body should not be overlooked. Gallstones become much more common. Arthritis, especially of weight-bearing joints such as the knees, becomes more common, too. Gout is almost twice as common among the moderately overweight, but can decrease with weight loss.

If you have a BMI of 25 or over – even if you are obese – you should reap multiple health benefits by striving for and maintaining a ten percent drop in your weight. To do this, establish a lifestyle that includes daily exercise, portion control, limiting fat and sugar consumption, and eating a mostly plant-based diet.

Nutrition Notes is provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research  in Washington, D.C.©

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