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The obesity epidemic is a major public health concern. Obesity is an independent risk factor for premature death, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, hypertension, stroke, osteoarthritis and certain cancers (1). In addition, obesity carries a significant social stigma and therefore psychological and economic consequences. Obesity is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death. Health-care costs associated with obesity amount to $117 billion per year or, conservatively, 6% of the total (2). The prevalence of overweight (defined as a body mass index (BMI > 25 kg/m2) has risen to 66.3% and obesity (defined as a body mass index > 30 kg/m2) has risen to 32.2% nationally (3). http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/trend/index.htm

The prevalence of overweight or obesity among minority (African-American and Hispanic) populations is exceptionally high: approximately 75% of Mexican American and 82% of Non-Hispanic Black Women are overweight or obese, compared to 58% of Non-Hispanic White (3).

It is important to note that BMI for children (ages 2-20) is calculated differently than for adults and is gender and age specific and is plotted on gender specific growth charts. For more information and how to calculate, please check http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/bmi-for-age.htm and http://www.shapeup.org/oap/entry.php

Alarmingly, approximately 17.1% of children (ages 2-19) are overweight (BMI over 95th percentile for age and height) and 33.6% are at risk for overweight (BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile) (3). Many overweight children already show metabolic abnormalities associated with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, according to CDC statistics, there was a 76% rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes between 1990 and 1998 among people in their 30s or younger. Ninety percent of these cases are attributable to obesity.

The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America released September 2016 shows that New Jersey’s adult obesity rate is currently 25.6 percent, up from 17.0 percent in 2000 and from 12.3 percent in 1995.   This data has also been described in more detail per county. For example, the lowest and highest prevalence for overweight individuals in NJ are 50% and 64% in Morris and Gloucester counties, respectively; whereas, obesity prevalence is lowest at 15% in Somerset and highest at 24% in Essex county. For diabetes and hypertension, diseases often attributed to obesity, the prevalence of diagnosed cases in the state of New Jersey is 9% and 31%, respectively for these diseases.

According to the 2003-2004 NJ Childhood Weight Status Report 38% of NJ 6th graders, from data collected from 40 randomly selected schools, are either overweight (18%) or obese (20%) (NJ Dept Health). However, there have been signs of Progress on Childhood Obesity in New Jersey.  A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August, 2013 showed that 18 states, including New Jersey, and one U.S. territory experienced a decline in obesity rates among 2- to 4-year-olds from low-income families between 2008 and 2011. Over that period, New Jersey’s rate fell from 17.9% to 16.6%, a statistically significant decrease according to the CDC analysis. Read more about the report at rwjf.org.

As emphasized at the recent National Nutrition Summit and in Healthy People 2010, there is an urgent need to address the problem of obesity. Recognizing the hazards to public health and in particular, to the citizens of NJ, Rutgers University and the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station helped to establish NJOG with a 5 year Program Enhancement Grant in 2001. This funding has allowed us to provide education through symposia and group counseling to other health professionals and researchers and the public. In addition, we have organized two Core laboratories: Lipid, Clinical, and Outreach Core. Since 2006, NJOG has been supported by a Johnson & Johnson Block grant.

References:

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; National, Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; 1998. NIH publication no. 98-4083.
  2. Wolf AM, Colditz GA. Current estimates of the economic cost of obesity in the United States. Obes Res. 1998 Mar;6(2):97-106.
  3. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, McDowell MA, Tabak CJ, Flegal KM. Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004. JAMA 2006;291(13):1549-1555.
  4. The state of Obesity. http://stateofobesity.org/states/nj/  Sept, 2016.
  5. Jiles R, Hughes E, Murphy W, Flowers N, McCracken M, Roberts H, Ochner M, Balluz L, Mokdad A, Elam-Evans L, Giles W. Surveillance for certain health behaviors among states and selected local areas–Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 2003. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2005 Dec 2;54(8):1-116.