IT Employment

General discussion


Obesity a killer?

By jkaras ·
'We're just too darn fat'
Obesity rivals tobacco as top preventable killer in U.S.

By Tamara Lytle | Sentinel Bureau Chief
Posted March 10, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Americans are eating themselves into early graves, according to a federal study released Tuesday that found obesity kills more people than drugs, alcohol, guns, AIDS, pollution and car accidents combined.

Health officials said two-thirds of Americans were overweight, and obesity could soon pass tobacco as the nation's No. 1 preventable killer.

About 400,000 people died from poor diet and lack of exercise in 2000 -- a 33 percent increase in a decade, according to the study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're just too darn fat, ladies and gentlemen," said Tommy Thompson, the Health and Human Services secretary. He put himself and his entire department on a diet to set an example.

Thompson, who has lost 15 pounds and has 10 more to go to reach his goal of 185, said Americans "need to understand that overweight and obesity are literally killing us."

Overweight is defined as having a body-mass index of 25. A person is considered obese when that number hits 30 or more -- which is about 30 extra pounds for a woman of average height and 35 to 40 pounds for a man. Body-mass index, or BMI, measures the relationship between a person's weight and height.

Fat is costing the country $117 billion a year in medical expenses and lost productivity, according to health officials. Corpulence increases the chances of developing hypertension, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Thompson unveiled an ad campaign aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic with humor.

In one ad, a shopping cart gets stuck on a double chin, which was dropped near a supermarket produce display. Another has a mall shopper turning in a pair of love handles found near the stairs. "Lots of people lost them taking the stairs instead of the escalator," a clerk says.

The secretary also said the National Institutes of Health will step up research into obesity.

"We are dealing with a public-health emergency," NIH head Elias Zerhouni said.

But U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said "the good news is it's all preventable."

Reining in lawsuits

The fat blame game also is playing out in the courts, Congress and the Florida Legislature.

Consumers will not be able to sue and blame the food and restaurant industries for their obesity under a bill approved Tuesday by a state Senate committee. The measure has been approved by the Florida House.

And today, the U.S. House is expected to pass a similar bill by Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando.

Keller, a yo-yo dieter who loves a Wendy's triple cheeseburger and Biggie fries, said it's his choice to ignore the warnings of nutritionists when he downs his high-calorie lunch.

"I would defy you to name any fast food I do not absolutely love. [But] it's my choice," said the rotund Keller. "There should be common sense in a food court, not blaming people in a legal court."

Attorneys who successfully sued the tobacco industry for pushing a deadly addictive substance have now set their sights on fast food and other junk-food purveyors. Pushing their message, a new movie will document the weight gain of a man who ate McDonald's food three times a day for a month.

Some restaurants have responded by making more nutrition information available and offering healthful alternatives. McDonald's recently announced it will no longer offer Super Size drinks and fries.

A Super Size Coke and fries, for instance, adds up to 1,020 calories -- about half a day's worth -- without an entr?e. Ruby Tuesday announced Tuesday that it will now list fat and calories on the menu to help diners make more-healthful choices.

Shannon McAleavey, a spokeswoman for Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, said it's not fair to blame restaurants for the obesity epidemic.

"As long as we are offering the gamut from healthy to indulgent, we are doing our part in giving consumers choices," said McAleavey, whose company owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster, among other restaurants. "Obesity is a much more complicated thing than eating in restaurants."

But a barrage of advertisements and promotions such as toys for children make it hard for parents to counter the allure of fast food, said Phyllis Magrab, head of Georgetown University's Center for Children and Human Development. Children are twice as likely to be fat as they were in 1980, according to HHS, which said 9 million children are overweight or obese.

Magrab said public pressure has led to some of the more-healthful menu options in restaurants.

Industry under fire

But John Banzhaf, a public-interest law professor at George Washington University, said the real change is from lawsuits.

Banzhaf, who led the charge of tobacco lawsuits, said that even though no restaurants have been successfully sued for causing obesity, healthful changes are being made.

"Very clearly, the lawsuits are working," he said.

Keller predicted his bill will pass overwhelmingly today. An identical Senate bill has not yet come up for a vote.

"Litigation isn't going to make a single person skinnier," said Keller, an Orlando lawyer before he was elected to Congress in 2000. "It's only going to make trial lawyers' wallets fatter."

But Jeff Cronin of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit nutrition group, said the food and restaurant industries don't need special protection. "The inside of a courtroom is one of the last remaining things to keep corporations on their best behavior."

Brendan Flanagan, lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, said his industry is braced for years of suits.

"They're trying to dictate to consumers what they feel are appropriate eating habits," he said. "It's clear consumers don't want trial lawyers telling them what they should or shouldn't eat."

Keller's bill bars lawsuits charging companies with causing obesity. But it allows other lawsuits, such as those on untruthful nutrition listings or faulty products.

Cronin said the restaurant and food industries are wielding clout from their political campaign donations.

Keller has received $170,000 from the restaurant and food-and-beverage industries during his three congressional campaigns. He received the fifth-largest amount in Congress from the restaurant business for the 2004 election, including $11,750 from Darden.

But Keller said trial lawyers -- who stand to lose from the bill -- are much more powerful in Washington than restaurants. "I could raise a ton more money by opposing this bill."

This was on the front page of our local paper. It gave statistics of 64% of American population 129.6 mil. either overweight or obese, 9 mil. children obese, $1 in $5 will be spent in ages over 50-69 for obese related medical expenses, 400,000 deaths from poor diet and physical inactivity claimed the CDC to name a few. When will the frivolous lawsuits end and people take responsibility for their actions? When will the rediculous talks of obesity be quelled? In my opinion most people take really good care of themselves. I see this in older aged people that have better bodies than most people in their thirties, and teenagers having model bodies. Granted there are some overweight people and massivly overweight people and those who dont really care but isnt this more of wanting a perfectly beautiful society and not about health issues. Basically guilt to be better that proliferates our society causing people to be ashamed and go to extremes to be liked like stomach stapling, and taking wonder pills? I am not what I used to be now in my thirties but I keep active going to the gym on a semi frequent basis because I want to remain healthy and inactivity is the real killer not what I eat per se. They also give other statistics of deaths in 90 and 2000.
19% 90s 18.1% 2000
poor diet inactivity
14% 90s 16.6% 2000
Alcohol consumption
5% 90s 3.5% 2000
microbial agents
4% 90s 3.1% 2000
toxic agents
3% 90s 2.3% 2000
car accidents
1% 90s 1.8% 2000
gun related
2% 90s 1.2% 2000
sexual behavior
1% 90s .08% 2000
drug use
less than 1% 90s .07% 2000
all according to the Journal of Amer. Medical Association.

This conversation is currently closed to new comments.

Thread display: Collapse - | Expand +

All Comments

Collapse -

"Preventable" deaths

by DC_GUY In reply to Obesity a killer?

The Washington Post put it all in the context of "preventable" deaths. In that category they included some odd choices such as traffic fatalities and homicide. Personally, I would call a cause of my death "preventable" only if I can "prevent" it by making reasonable choices, not by never leaving my house.

But even with that expansive definition, their "preventable" deaths only total somewhat more than one million per year, about ten percent of the total U.S. death rate. I guess that means most of us are going to die of "unpreventable" causes -- like getting old and feeble.

I still hew to a bit of wisdom passed down to me many years ago.

You can give up smoking and drinking, and while you're at it, all the other drugs that are less dangerous but illegal. Stop eating red meat (I told you this was many years ago, today it would be bread). Take up jogging, spend at least ten hours a week at it. Give up that stressful high-paying job and take a more prosaic one with fewer headaches. Ride the nice safe bus and get some extra aerobics by always using stairways. Stop staying out late and fooling around with people who you don't know where they were last night. Marry a nice girl or boy that your mother likes, and settle down. Keep regular hours and don't hang around with people who expose you to temptation and risk.

No, it may not actually make your life any longer. But it will sure FEEL like it!

(Actually I did marry a nice girl that my mother liked and we've had a happy life for more than 25 years. Not all hokey advice is bad. But we never exactly "settled down" and we eat both red meat and bread. ^_^)

Collapse -


by maecuff In reply to "Preventable" deaths

As far as people on welfare being fat.. What types of food can you buy that will be cheap, yet plentiful? Pastas, bread, potatoes, etc. Simple carbohydrates. It's no wonder that poor families are heavier.

Collapse -

Try Again...

by dwdino In reply to welfare

I have been on welfare, it is the choices you make, not the options.

I will give you two more likely reasons: couch, tv.

Collapse -

very unfair...

by maecuff In reply to Try Again...

Were you trying to feed a houseful of kids? TV and the couch can certainly have an adverse effect, but it's unfair to say that is the likely reason. Poor or not, all people are not created equal. I know many heavy people, and most of them aren't lazy slobs. My husband was quite heavy and had a very difficult time losing weight until he learned that he had some food allergies that were a contributing factor. I had thyroid cancer and have had to make major changes in my life to keep myself at a decent weight (something I never worried about until my surgery) And there are some people who are just bigger. The really aggravating and unfair thing is when people assume they are just lazy. Unless you've ever had to struggle with weight, it's best not to judge, because it's possible that you have no idea of what you talking about.

Collapse -


by dwdino In reply to very unfair...

I expected some understanding of the context.

I in no way included those with physical or biological difficulties in my previous post.

If that offended you, I am sorry.

Collapse -


by maecuff In reply to Sorry

I'm not offended. What about people who don't have biological or physical limitations? What about people who eat too much to compensate for too much stress, or sadness or whatever? Perhaps that is their outlet. Again, this does not make a person lazy, only human.

I guess the frustration comes from hearing (not only in this forum, but from many sources) people give definitive reasons for eating disorders/mental health issues, whatever, when it is their opinion...perhaps not really the answer. I have a child with ADHD/dyslexia/tourrette syndrome. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, with a discipline, this child will not have problems. Or, he is lazy and a trouble maker, etc. Which is, of course, ********. These opinions usually come from people who don't live day to day with people who have these problems, they do, however, seem to know exactly what the problem is, and what needs to be done about it.

Collapse -

In the same sense

by Oz_Media In reply to okay

I quit smoking for a year and a half once (why did I start again!!!??) during that time, I had uncontrollable appetite. Also during this time, I was going through a divorce, splitting up my life's worth and all that horrible stuff.

I started on chocolate binges, then everything else I could consume, including drugs and alcohol.

I noticed I was in a downward spiral and decided to do something about it myself.

Sure a burger at MacPukes is cheap, but ten minutes later you're hungry again. i started the veggie binge. I'd go for a bike ride and instead of taking junk food for thet artificial 'energy' excuse, I would take carrots (damn good munchies by the way). I know it is sick and even I frowned on the sucky carroy idea but it worked.

As I was quitting smoking at the time, food tasted better anyhow and I really started to get off on veggies. sure I'm a stek and potatoes guy too, but the veggies were affordable and cheaper than junk food or a mega high carb diet.

I ran screaming from spaghetti and other starchy pasta, (OK I do make my own pasta, as i prefer fresh to dry and it's just as cheap and easy)but I generally made a concious effort to eat better and get outside.

Yu don't need ANY budget for exercise. Outdoors is free, fresh air is a privaledge that we can still enjoy for now, and kicking a ball or walking isn't too expensive at all.

so while diest IS important, excercise is the main one. Kids never USED to be fat, they didn't have video games either.

When my son was younger, he was allowed two hours of vids a day, no more, no matter what.

On weekends I wouldn't let him play vids at all as we were ALWAYS out doing something. I'm no happy venturer, vegan, tree huger by any means but I do understand the importance of gettng outside with teh kids. As a kid myself, I was NEVEr at home, unless being puinished for something. baseball, soccer, hockey, swimming, scouting ANYTHING but sitting at home. Sure I had one of those fancy high tech Atari 2600's with many cartidges but it bored the **** out of me compared to camping or lpaying with friends.

I think parents use the 'it's not safe outside' excuse WAY too often and don't educate thier kids on how to handle being in public.

They also rely on the Ninbimbo babysitter too often and don't smack thier kids silly for sitting inside on a nice day. I remember I'd be outside from dawn til dusk and beyond, until someone came and dragged me home.

Nowdays it seems people have to force thier kids to go outside, what have we done to this generation? We've taken thier freedoms and replaced them with 'safe indoors' activities.

FUN is free welfare or not. It doesn't cost money to stay healthy.

Collapse -

Sorry but you are WRONG!

by HAL 9000 Moderator In reply to okay

They only "Think" they know how to fix things when in actual fact they know bugger all about anything and are not prepared to admit it.


Collapse -


by maecuff In reply to okay

That IS another way of putting it.

Collapse -

Life is a journey. . . . . . .

by maxwell edison In reply to Obesity a killer?

.......waiting for something to kill it.


Bad news: Americans are eating themselves into early graves.

Good news: It will be less of a strain on our already overburdened Social Security system.


Bad News: Attorneys who successfully sued the tobacco industry for pushing a deadly addictive substance have now set their sights on fast food and other junk-food purveyors.

Good News: Consumers will not be able to sue and blame the food and restaurant industries for their obesity under a bill approved Tuesday by a state Senate committee. The measure has been approved by the Florida House.

Bad News: Litigation isn't going to make a single person skinnier," said Keller, an Orlando lawyer before he was elected to Congress in 2000. "It's only going to make trial lawyers' wallets fatter."


Bad News: About 400,000 people died from poor diet and lack of exercise in 2000.

Good News: About 400,000 people were free to make the choice (in this land of abundance) to die from poor diet and lack of exercise in 2000. (Despite the non-stop information regarding the risks.)


Doesn't is seem rather ironic that, on one hand, the collective "we" are always looking for ways to extend other people's lives, but on the other hand, the collective "we" are always struggling to find ways to make other people pay for it?

Doesn't it seem rater ironic that, on one hand, the "do-gooders" claim that about two-thirds of Americans are over-weight, but on the other hand, some other "do-gooders" claim that there's a hunger crisis in America.

I wonder how many of these "overweight" people are issued government food stamps?

Related Discussions

Related Forums