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5:06 PM Sun, Oct. 21st

Waistlines expand with portion sizes

KINGMAN - More than 127 million adults across the country are overweight, and the number is trending up.

According to Dino Pierce, a registered dietician at the Del E. Webb Wellness and Rehabilitation Center, 60 million people are obese and 9 million are severely obese.

As of 2001, Arizona ranked seventh in the nation in the percentage of obese adults - 17.9 percent.

Worldwide, about 1.2 billion people are overweight, 300 million of whom are obese, according to 2005 statistics.

In the 1960s, 45 percent of Americans were overweight, rising to 47 percent in the 1970s. Approximately 65 percent of Americans are overweight now, Pierce said.

Currently, 64.5 percent of U.S. adults age 20 and older are overweight and 30.5 percent are obese, according to information provided at obesity.org. Severe obesity prevalence is now 4.7 percent, up from the 2.9 percent reported in the 1988-1994 National Health Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Being overweight means a person has a body mass index of 25 or more; obese is a BMI of 30 or more; and severe obesity is a BMI of 40 or more. Many Web sites, including obesity.org, provide the tools necessary to calculate your BMI.

Statistics show that men are more likely, at 67 percent, to be overweight than women (62 percent). However, women show more of a propensity to be obese (34 percent) than men (27.7 percent), although the reasons can vary.

Pierce said obesity could increase the risk for multiple serious medical conditions, including diabetes. Approximately 22 million people suffer from diabetes and the prevalence continues to increase, he said.

Pierce said that a recent ABC News broadcast showed that the epidemic had increased to the point where there were more obese people in the world than those who are malnourished.

Obesity is caused by a combination of excess intake, inactivity and genes, Pierce said. Genes play a role, but not as significant a one as inactivity, he said.

One of the problems is that everything is within arm's reach, he said. When people are hungry, it isn't for long. Vending machines, fast food - it's easy to get food. The issue is choosing the right foods.

One of the biggest causes for the increase in obesity prevalence is the larger portions available in America, he said.

"Studies show that the more food put in front of people, the more they eat. And since the 1960s, the serving sizes of foods sold in stores and restaurants - from candy bars to burgers and sodas - have become much bigger," according to an article by Nanci Hellmich in USA Today.

Twenty years ago, a cup of coffee was approximately three to five ounces, totaling about 45 calories, Pierce said. Today, the average cup of coffee is 350 calories at 12 or more ounces. The difference would take about an 80-minute walk to burn off. Muffins have changed from about 210 calories 20 years ago to 500 calories today. The difference equals about an hour of vacuuming.

"People have no idea that a five-ounce bagel is equal to five pieces of bread or 15 cups of popcorn," author Lisa Young reported.

A five-ounce bagel would make up the five servings of breads/grains that people consuming about 1,600 calories a day should eat the entire day, Young told USA Today.

Pierce said that environmental toxins could also be a factor in increasing obesity prevalence.

A group of researchers at the University of New Hampshire are currently probing the potential link between environmental chemicals and obesity. They are investigating whether the "increasing ubiquity of chemical flame retardants found in foam furniture, carpeting, microwaves and computers might be related to the climbing rate of obesity in the United States," an article on the study said.

Researchers are finding that the toxins seem to interrupt thyroid hormone levels, which may impact caloric expenditure.

Studies are also beginning to show that a lack of sleep and environmental toxins are just as likely to cause obesity as fast food and lack of exercise, Pierce said.