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NCHS: Adult obesity and diabetes on the rise in the United States

Obesity and diabetes are significantly more common in the United States than 20 years ago, according to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). In 1997, under 20 percent of American adults over 20 years of age were classified as obese, a figure that rose to 31.4 percent in 2017. Adult males aged 40 to 59 exhibited the highest prevalence of obesity, with 37.9 percent of this age group categorized as obese. The lowest rates were among adult males between 20 and 39 years of age. 

The data from the NCHS also showed a surge in cases of diabetes in the United States. In 1997 only 5.1 percent of adult Americans had diagnosed diabetes, yet this rose to 9.5 percent in 2017. The findings support those in the National Diabetes Statistics Report 2017, which estimated 30.3 million (9.4 percent of the population) have diabetes. The majority of cases are type 2 diabetes, which accounts for between 90 and 95 percent of all diabetes cases.

Obesity is linked to several health conditions and can increase the risk of developing certain diseases, notably heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates annual medical costs for people with obesity are around $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. 

Being obese significantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The National Diabetes Statistics Report 2017 found that 87.5 percent of adults with diagnosed diabetes were overweight or obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more, with 43.5 percent registering a BMI higher than 30, the benchmark for obesity.

Rates of obesity differ across the country, with West Virginia recording the highest rate of adult obesity, with nearly four in ten adults registering a BMI within the obese range, according to the State of Obesity 2016 report. States with the lowest levels of obesity included Colorado, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Hawaii.

Weight gain can be difficult to control, but lifestyle changes, medication, and in some cases surgery, can make it easier. A healthy diet and getting more exercise is always a good place to start, but there are drugs available to assist with weight loss, for example, Adipex-P (phentermine) and diethylpropion, which are centrally-acting antiobesity products used alongside a calorie-controlled diet to help patients lose weight.

Losing weight can help reduce the symptoms of type 2 diabetes and reduce the need for diabetes medication, such as Humalog (insulin) or Glucophage (metformin). A study conducted in the United Kingdom and published in the Lancet in December 2017 found that nearly half the patients placed on a managed weight loss course experienced remission of their diabetes and were able to come off their diabetes medication.