WaPo reports,

Obesity is the No. 1 health threat in the United States today, the head of the leading U.S. federal health agency said on Tuesday.

While much of her time is spent preparing to fight anthrax, smallpox, and biological threats, and diseases like SARS and West Nile virus, Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding, said Americans are much more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes caused by smoking, eating too much and exercising too little.

“Unfortunately, poor diet and a lack of exercise have almost caught up with tobacco as being the leading cause of death in the United States,” Gerberding told a meeting of the National Health Council, which groups companies and non-profit health advocacy organizations.

She cited statistics that show 65 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese. In 2000, 38.8 million American adults were classified as obese, meaning their health is seriously at risk.

“In three states, 25 percent of adults are obese — not overweight but obese,” Gerberding said. The three states are Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia. “It is a catastrophe in our country.”

She showed a graph of the leading causes of death in the United States. Heart disease is first, followed by cancer, stroke, lung disease and accidents.

Obesity is a leading cause of the first three and, she said, bioterrorism is nowhere to be seen among the top 10 causes of death.

To which I reply, WooHoo!

How wonderful is it to live in a society in which the NUMBER ONE health threat is that we can eat so much food and do so little work that we get fat? It beats the heck out of worrying about, say, the bubonic plague. Further, this is a health problem for which we have a ready cure: Put down that fork! Indeed, the secret to maintaining a healthy weight range is simple: take in no more calories than you burn off in a day.

FILED UNDER: Health, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Pierce says:

    Great perspective! – Mark

  2. Ed says:

    No one seems to make the connection between (a) the number of people who have managed to stop smoking, in response to a medical imperative, and (b) the resulting gain in weight that can, almost inevitably, be expected.

  3. James Joyner says:


    I’m sure that’s a contributing factor, yes. But, ironically, a large part of it has been the health concerns over eating too much fat and the vast increase in the consumption of processed carbohydrates.

  4. hln says:



  5. James says:

    One thing that no one has mentioned is that perdiodically the government redefines what obese means.

    If you want to increase the number of fat people, the easiest way is to redefine what it takes to be fat.

  6. jen says:

    I was going to mention the tables and charts unrealistic numbers as James did above. One of our deputies (who is very fit – works out regularly, eath healthy, and is by no means overweight) is considered obese by many of the charts out today.

    I could stand to lose a few (ok, more than a few) pounds, but if I weighed what the charts say I should weigh I would look much too thin for my frame and height.

  7. Jen’s right – I just renewed my life insurance policy and was deemed “overweight”. I argued that I have an “athletic build” – I lift weights and can bench over 300 lbs and am thick – but not fat. Sorry, the tables are the tables and I weigh more than I “should” for my height, so I get stuck with a higher premium.

  8. StumpJumper says:

    jen, Director Mitch: I agree with you both that the height/weight tables need to be adjusted (or replace) by something that reprsents in-shape people better. BMI is a much better indicator since it factors lean body mass vs. fat. Since I work out alot (though I don’t lift the way Mitch does – I’d LOVE to be able to bench 300) my weight is higher than the tables say it should be even though my body fat is very low.

    Of course, the basic premise of the post is correct – our biggest health problems today are a result of excess.