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Obesity Jumps!

WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (AFP) —  Obesity among Americans increased nearly six percent last year, prompting health workers to urge people to watch their diet and engage in more physical activity, according to a report published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"A jump of this magnitude in only one year is as unbelievable as it is scary," Richard Atkinson, president of the American Obesity Association, commented on the report. "Medicine has never seen an epidemic of this proportion," he added.

The prevalence of obesity increased significantly from 17.9 percent in 1998 to 18.9 percent in 1999, an increase of 5.6 percent in just one year, representing a 51 percent leap since 1991, said the report, compiled by a group of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of cases of diabetes, meanwhile, increased 33 percent from 1990 to 1998, an increase the report said was "highly correlated" with obesity, highlighting obesity as "not just a cosmetic disorder."

"The time has come to develop a national, comprehensive plan to prevent and treat the obesity epidemic," the authors of the study said.

Meanwhile, Judith Stern, vice president of the American Obesity Association, said it was time to put a greater emphasis on physical activity, particularly among students, to prevent the spread of obesity.

About 20 percent of adults and 15 to 20 percent of children in the United States suffer from obesity. Some 300,000 people die each year of illnesses and complications linked to the condition.

"This increase was highly correlated with obesity, and this emphasizes that obesity is not just a cosmetic disorder but a major risk factor for chronic diseases," the CDC researchers write. They note that about 300,000 US adults die of obesity-related causes annually.

Mokdad and colleagues suggest that health departments and communities develop programs to promote nutrition and boost physical activity. Such programs may help obese people to shed pounds and lower the rate of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.