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Not long ago, obesity was seen mainly as a cosmetic problem. The purpose of dieting was to improve your appearance, especially in time for bathing-suit season. Exercise was a way to tighten bulges around the stomach and thighs. As a last resort, there were diet doctors, although they were regarded with suspicion -- even within the medical community -- for popularizing fad diets and preying on people's vanity.

In just the last few years, however, the medical view of overweight, or excess body fat, has undergone a change. No longer just a cosmetic problem, it is now known to be a public health problem of the same magnitude as smoking. Indeed, government statistics list overweight as the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, after smoking. By increasing the risk for a variety of serious diseases -- for example, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, and several forms of cancer -- overweight and its more severe form, obesity, cause 280,000-325,000 deaths in this country each year. For many people, losing weight is not an act of vanity; it's a struggle for survival.

The dangers of excess weight have come to light at a time when the rates of overweight and obesity are soaring. More than half of all adults in the United States are overweight, and 26% are obese -- an increase of more than 50% in the last three decades. Obesity rates are rising dramatically among children, too, an ominous sign for the future health of our population.

Find out more about obesity by clicking on the topics below.

  What is Obesity?  

  Know Your BMI - Overweight vs Obese  

  Health Risks of Obesity  

  Obesity - Health Consequences  

  Surgeon General's Report - Facts about Obesity  

  Surgeon General's Report - A Vision for the Future  

  NIH Key Recommendations  

  Foods - "Low Fat" vs Regular  

  How to Lose Weight  

  Ten Ways to Cut Calories  

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Date of Last Update: 07/27/12