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Americans are fatter — and drunker

CDC studies find obesity and binge drinking on the rise

People relax on the beach in Hollywood, Fla. A study released Tuesday found more than one in five American adults could be classified as obese in 2001.

Dec. 31 —  For the bleary-eyed able to stomach a tidbit of health news after ringing in the New Year, more Americans are getting fat and drunk each year, with sometimes deadly results, researchers said Tuesday.

MORE THAN one in five American adults could be classified as obese in 2001, up almost 6 percent from the year before. And more than one in four Americans engage in bouts of binge drinking — defined as five or more drinks at one sitting with the goal of getting drunk — up 35 percent from 1995.
         “I guess you could say we’re fat and drunk,” said Timothy Naimi, a researcher at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, summarizing a pair of studies based on a huge telephone survey of more than 200,000 adults.
        “We’re a society that is somewhat taken with excesses,” Naimi said.
        The studies’ publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association was timed by the journal to coincide with the revelry associated with New Year’s eve.


U.S. driving fatalities more than double on New Year’s day as celebrants take to the roads.
       According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 393 people died in traffic accidents after midnight on New Year’s day over the past three years, more than half of them alcohol-related. That compares to the daily average of about 115 traffic deaths — roughly 42,000 a year — 40 percent of them blamed on alcohol.
       Bingeing — whether on alcohol or food — is a potentially fatal health problem, CDC researchers said.
       Abuse of alcohol kills roughly 100,000 Americans a year, the third-leading cause of preventable deaths after smoking and physical inactivity. Binge drinking accounted for roughly half those 100,000 deaths, Naimi said.
       Drinking and driving was a particularly deadly combination among binge drinkers, who were 14 times more likely to get behind the wheel than adults who drank but not to excess. Binge drinking is also behind many sexual assaults, domestic violence incidents, and other crimes, the report said.

DRUNK and proud of it

Drinking to get drunk is more prevalent among men than women, with men accounting for 81 percent of the 1.5 billion binge-drinking episodes in 2001, it said.
       Three-quarters of binge drinkers were people who otherwise considered themselves moderate drinkers, the study found, and the practice is not confined to the college-age set, with 70 percent of episodes undertaken by people over age 25.
       Roughly half of adult Americans do not drink at all.
      Efforts to stem binge drinking might find a parallel in anti-smoking campaigns that seem to be working, Naimi said.
       But while tax increases on cigarettes have helped choke off demand especially among the young, alcohol taxes have not kept pace with inflation over the past two decades, he said.
       Meanwhile, more than a dozen U.S. states lag in lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit for impaired drivers, legislation that has been found to save lives, and many doctors ignore public health pleas to question patients about their drinking habits.
       Too often, Naimi said, heavy drinking episodes are accepted as a joke or heralded as a badge of courage, and ebullient liquor advertising too often targets the young. The growing fad of “supersizing” bar drinks has become as common as fast-food franchises’ expanded portions of fatty French fries.
       “Of course, wagging my finger doesn’t carry too much water,” Naimi said, adding that the goal was moderation, not necessarily abstinence. “We don’t live in prohibition.”

Obesity declared a GLOBAL PROBLEM

Obesity is another killer, and its prevalence among U.S. adults nearly doubled in the past decade to 21 percent of adults, the CDC researchers said.
       Obesity has been declared a global problem by the World Health Organization, and 45 percent of adults in some oil-rich Persian Gulf nations are obese, study author Ali Mokdad said.
       Europeans are generally slimmer than Americans, but are catching up fast.
       “We drive longer distances, everything is done by machines, we spend all our time on computers,” Mokdad said by way of explaining the fattening of some Americans. Eating healthy foods requires effort, he said, while eating a bad diet is relatively inexpensive.
       Excess fat, like alcohol abuse, causes a host of related health problems, the researchers said.
       For instance, the rising rates of obesity corresponds with an increase in the prevalence of diabetes, which afflicts more than one out of 12 adults, an increase of 8 percent in 2001 from the year before.
       “Each year, an estimated 300,000 U.S. adults die of causes related to obesity, and diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death,” Mokdad wrote.

 © 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

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