The obesity and diabetes epidemics continued to escalate during 2001, according to data released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a study published in the Jan. 1, 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the CDC reported that obesity climbed from 19.8 percent of American adults to 20.9 percent of American adults between 2000 and 2001, and diagnosed diabetes (including gestational diabetes) increased from 7.3 percent to 7.9 percent during the same one-year period. The increases were evident regardless of sex, age, race and educational status.

“Obesity and diabetes are among our top public health problems in the United States today,” said U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. “The good news is that diabetes and other chronic illnesses can be prevented with modest lifestyle changes. As we enter a new year, it is a great opportunity for all Americans to be active and healthy.”

Currently, more than 44 million Americans are considered obese by body mass index, reflecting an astounding increase of 74 percent since 1991. During the same time frame, diabetes increased by 61 percent, reflecting the strong correlation between obesity and development of diabetes, according to the CDC.

Today, an estimated 17 million people have diabetes in the United States.

Prevalence of diagnosed diabetes and obesity varied among states. Mississippi had the highest rate of obesity (25.9 percent) and Colorado had the lowest (14.4 percent), according to the CDC.

“These increases are disturbing and are likely even underestimated,” said CDC Director Dr. Julie L. Gerberding. “What's more important, we're seeing a serious health effects resulting from obesity.”

The study found significant associations between overweight, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma and arthritis. Compared to adults with healthy weight (body mass index values from 18.5 to 24.9), those with a BMI of 40 or higher had an increased risk of being diagnosed with diabetes (7.37 times greater), high blood pressure (6.38 times greater), high cholesterol levels (1.88 times greater), asthma (2.72 times greater), and arthritis (4.41 times greater).

“If we continue on this same path, the results will be devastating to the health of the nation and to our healthcare system,” Gerberding said.

Other study results found that African Americans had the highest rates of obesity (31.1 percent) and diabetes (11.2 percent) compared with other ethnic groups. People with less than a high school education had higher rates of obesity (27.4 percent) and diabetes (13 percent) than people who had a high school education.

The data in the report was obtained through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a state-based telephone survey that collects information from adults 18 years or older. For this survey, participants were asked about their height and weight and if they had ever been told by a doctor that they had diabetes.

To address the epidemics, the CDC recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week to maintain good health and 60 minutes to achieve significant weight loss. The problem falls on them and the fitness industry to get the message out to the masses.