CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – According to a new study that looked at 136 Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities in 2000, the percentage of veterans receiving care at these facilities who are obese is greater than the obesity percentage in the general population. Also, like most Americans, military service veterans are likely to put on a few pounds as they age.

Researchers measured the height and weight of 1.8 million veterans who received outpatient care. This data was combined with demographic information to obtain age-adjusted body mass index (BMI) levels. Participants were classified as overweight (25 to 29 BMI), obese (30 to 39 BMI) and class-III obese (40 BMI or higher).

Among the 93,290 women receiving care at a VA hospital, 68.4 percent were overweight, 37.4 percent were obese and 6 percent were class-III obese. The prevalence of obesity in women increased in their 60s and 70s, and then declined.

Of the 1.7 million men studied, 73 percent were classified as overweight, 32.9 percent obese and 3.3 percent class-III obese. Men younger than 30 years old or older than 70 years old had the lowest prevalence of obesity. Overall, Native American men and women had the highest rates of obesity, 35.1 percent and 40.7 percent respectively, and Asian-American men and women had the lowest, 20.6 percent and 12.8 percent respectively.

Although the cause for the high level of overweight and obesity in these veterans is not known, "Veterans who use VA facilities differ from the general population …being older, poorer and less educated, which are factors that may contribute to their risk for obesity," according to study author Linda Kinsinger, quoted in the International Council on Active Aging’s Research Review. These veterans also tend to have a variety of illnesses, and obesity may be "both a risk factor for, and also a consequence of, chronic illnesses and their treatment." Researchers concluded that these high levels of obesity indicate the need for a comprehensive weight management program by the Veterans Health Administration.

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