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Obesity on Rise Among Americans

Aired October 9, 2002 - 08:46   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Time to talk health now, Bill. Got a couple of subjects in our "House Call" this morning. This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we are going to hear about a rare but deadly form of the disease. First though, some disturbing news about obesity. I guess the problem is just getting worse.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta along to tell us what is going on out there -- good morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Yes, the nation is just getting fatter. This has been confirmed. Now, we have been talking about this for quite some time now, but 64.5 percent, almost 2/3 of adult Americans are overweight. What struck me even more than that, Paula, was the number of people who are obese.

Let's look at who is obese. First of all, obese -- the definition of obese is a little difficult, between adults, obviously, and children. But over about 30 pounds, more than 30 pounds over your healthy body weight, you're obese. Thirty percent -- actually, 31 percent of adults are actually obese.

Look at the bottom number, 10.4 percent of really young people, young children are obese, and we have heard before, Paula, you and I have talked about the fact that almost 70 percent of those young kids who are obese, it's not just baby fat, they will grow up to be obese adults as well.

So we are really at a nation (ph) of extremes right now. Paradoxically, we focus on fitness, we focus on diets, we focus on body image. Two-thirds of the nation is overweight. There is a problem there, and a lot of people are talking about that. It's related to just about every chronic medical problem out there. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, you name it, it is probably related to obesity in some way. The standard food pyramid that you and I have talked so much about just does not seem to be working. The American lifestyle does not fit with being able to actually follow the food pyramid anymore, so people are looking at other ways, maybe.

ZAHN: When you hear two-thirds, that is shocking enough, but when you hear that means 120 million people in this country are obese, it really is shocking.

GUPTA: Billions -- hundreds of billions of dollars related to the health care costs taking care of obese people. It is almost as much, sometimes more than smoking-related deaths -- smoking-related illness. Obesity, something -- the food we put into our bodies.

ZAHN: So what are we doing wrong?

GUPTA: Well, we do know that the gold standards work, the food pyramid, eating the right foods, exercise -- you know, eat right and exercise, that still works. Who would have thunk?

But people can't do that with their lifestyles nowadays. We are a busier lifestyle, we want quick fixes, we want all those sorts of things. It doesn't work. Does the high protein diet work? You know what, we are not absolutely sure. We are not sure how nutritious it is. We should be studying that sort of stuff to find out. This is something people can do. This is a diet that they can follow. Let's study it to see how nutritious it is, and if it really does work.

ZAHN: On to the story about inflammatory breast cancer. What is that, and how common is it?

GUPTA: Well, it's very rare, and that is a good thing, because this is a very deadly form of cancer that we are talking about here.

Inflammatory breast cancer -- what is most disconcerting about this, this is very different than the sort of find a lump in the breast, biopsy, and have it turn out to be cancer. This is a sort of cancer, Paula, that actually spreads along the chest wall. Oftentimes, it can be confused with just infection or inflammation of the breast, and be confused not being cancer at all, and by the time it is actually detected, it's actually already spread to the entirety of the breast, and maybe even to other organs, which is why it's so fatal. By the time they find this thing, oftentimes, the survival rate is less than 20 percent at five years.

ZAHN: So pray tell, how are we supposed to find these things this day -- these days, when there is so much controversy over mammograms and we learn that self-breast exams aren't supposed to save lives.

GUPTA: There is a couple of good rules. I think there is a couple important points to keep in mind. One is that oftentimes, there is a condition known as mastitis, which is just an infection of the breast. You can look at some of the symptoms there. The breast actually becomes reddened, there is changes in the breast texture, it becomes itchy, pain in the breast, all that sort of stuff. You can see the symptoms there on the screen. Can be either mastitis or inflammatory breast cancer.

Obviously, one is much worse than the other. What doctors typically will do in that situation is maybe give the patient, actually, antibiotics for about a week. If there is no response at all to the antibiotic, it is probably time to do a needle biopsy, actually find out what the tissue is in there, and maybe even an MRI scan to find out if this, in fact, is something that is spreading along the chest wall, that could be inflammatory breast cancer.

ZAHN: So the bottom line is, if you have any of those symptoms, do not...

GUPTA: Don't blow it off. Don't blow it off. Get that checked out. You may have had mastitis in the past, you may have mastitis now, but don't blow this off. It could be inflammatory breast cancer. Only 1 to 4 percent of times of all breast cancers are inflammatory breast cancer, but if you catch it early, like other breast cancers, it can be cured.

ZAHN: That is the key.

GUPTA: Right. Absolutely.

ZAHN: Thanks, doctor.

GUPTA: Good seeing you.

ZAHN: Thanks for coming to New York to come talk with us.


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