LOS ANGELES - A just released report in the New England Journal of Medicine predicts that life expectancy in the United States will soon begin to fall because of the obesity epidemic. This represents a dramatic reversal of the steady increase in life expectancy observed in the last century.
"The findings are particularly ominous given the state of the obesity epidemic in Los Angeles County," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, County Health Officer and Director of Public Health.
Overall in the county, more than half of all adults are either overweight or obese (the most severe form of overweight). Recent findings from the Los Angeles County Health Survey indicate a steady rise in obesity among county adults, from 14.3% obese in 1997 to 19.3% in 2003. The epidemic is particularly severe in the African- American and Latino populations, where obesity rates have reached 31% and 24%, respectively.
"We are already seeing the devastating consequences of the epidemic in our mortality statistics," said Dr. Fielding. "While death rates have decreased for most of the leading causes of death in the county over the past decade, we have seen a 60% rise in diabetes deaths during this same time period."
Of even greater concern is the steady increase in overweight among children in the county. Results from the California Physical Fitness Testing Program indicate that the rate of overweight among children in the county is increasing at a rate of one percentage point per year, from 18% in 1999 to 22% in 2003.
While epidemics have long been seen for communicable diseases, this sort of rapid increase is unprecedented for chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes.
"Without aggressive action to address the obesity problem, I am very concerned that the recent gains made in reducing heart disease, cancer, and stroke will also be reversed over the next generation," said Dr. Fielding. "We owe it to our children to begin taking the necessary steps to turn the corner on this epidemic. It's not going to happen unless we make broad societal changes that make it easier for people to be physically active and increase their access to healthy, affordable foods."
Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health.