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The alarming global increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity is now a worldwide health epidemic (Hill et al., 1995; Popkin and Doak, 1998; Wadden et al., 2002). Obesity appears closely associated with several major health risks including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers (Must et al., 1999), and may shorten life expectancy in even young adults (Fontaine et al., 2003). A persistent increase in obesity prevalence has been observed in the United States over the past three decades despite increased awareness. Mokdad et al. (1999) reported an increase in the prevalence of obesity (body mass index (BMI) > 30kg/m2) from 12 per cent (1991) to 17.9 per cent (1998), and a recent review of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data report that 64.5 per cent of the US population is currently overweight (BMI > 25 kg/m2), with the prevalence of obesity now reaching 30.5 per cent (Flegal et al., 2002). Most recently, Mokdad and colleagues (2003) reported a 5.6 per cent one-year increase (2000-2001) in the prevalence of obesity, accompanied by an 8.2 per cent increase in the prevalence of diabetes from 7.35 to 7.9 per cent in this same year. These data confirm increases in the prevalence of these disorders across both genders, all age ranges, educational levels, and ethnicities. As the rate of obesity and its associated health disorders rapidly reaches crisis proportions, there are many proposed explanations to account for these increases including genetics, and the influence of an environment which promotes unhealthy lifestyle practices.

Obesity and Diabetes. Edited by Anthony H. Barnett and Sudhesh Kumar © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd ISBN: 0-470-84898-7

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