|WASHINGTON — Americans are sitting around and eating themselves to death, with obesity closing in on tobacco as the nation’s No. 1 underlying preventable killer.
The government is offering constructive, even lighthearted, advice to fight what it calls an epidemic of expanding waistlines. Americans will be told in a new ad campaign they can lose midsection love handles and double chins one step at a time if they eat less and exercise more.
“We’re just too darn fat, ladies and gentlemen, and we’re going to do something about it,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Tuesday.
A poor diet and physical inactivity caused 400,000 deaths in 2000, a 33 percent jump over 1990, said a study released Tuesday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco-related deaths in the same period climbed by less than 9 percent and the gap between the two narrowed substantially.
“This is tragic,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC’s director and an author of the study.
The report predicts obesity will surpass tobacco if trends continue. “Our worst fears were confirmed,” Gerberding said.
The study is the latest in a long line of research documenting widespread weight gain — and its consequences — among Americans, from children to seniors.
The researchers analyzed data from 2000 for the leading causes of death and for those preventable factors known to contribute to them. Like tobacco, obesity and inactivity increase the risks for the top three killers: heart disease, cancer and such cerebrovascular ailments as strokes. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle also strongly increase the risk of diabetes, the sixth-leading cause of death.
The results appear in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association.
Americans’ fast-food lifestyle, increased use of computers and a decline in school physical education programs all were cited by Thompson and other officials as factors contributing to the nation’s fat problem. Two out of three adults and 9 million children are overweight or obese.
Rather than call for dramatic changes in diet and exercise, Thompson said Americans could begin a gradual exercise program. They could get off the bus a block farther from their homes, he said, and slowly cut back on unhealthful foods.
Thompson said President Bush would play a prominent part in the campaign, but did not elucidate.