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Veterans Heavier Than Rest of U.S. Population

Finding spotlights need for obesity prevention at VA health centers

FRIDAY, March 18, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Veterans are more likely to be overweight than the general population, a new study finds.

"We found rates [of overweight and obesity] that were somewhat higher than the general population," said study co-author Dr. Linda S. Kinsinger, an assistant director at the Veterans Administration National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Durham, N.C.

She and her team reviewed the medical records of 1.8 million VA health center patients in the first comprehensive look at rates of obesity and overweight among veterans.

"Two thirds of the women and almost three-quarters of the men were overweight or obese," Kinsinger said. "It's a little bit higher than the general population."

Reporting in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Kinsinger's group focused on veterans (95 percent men) who received outpatient care at 136 VA medical facilities across the United States during 2000. The researchers measured weight, height and other data to obtain body mass index (BMI) categories. A BMI of 25 and above is considered overweight, while one of 30 or above reaches statistical obesity.

Specifically, her team found that 73 percent of the men were overweight, with nearly a third obese. More than 68 percent of the women studied were overweight, with more than 37 percent statistically obese.

Those numbers are somewhat higher than the general population, where just over 67 percent of men are overweight and 27.5 percent obese, the researchers note. Among women in the general population, close to 62 percent are overweight, with about one-third obese.

The two populations are not completely comparable, stressed Kinsinger. The veterans were all medical patients and may have different characteristics than the general population, such as being older, poorer or less educated -- all factors that could contribute to the chances they will carry excess weight.

Kinsinger said the numbers didn't come as a big surprise. "There is no reason to think [excessive weight gain] would be any less of a problem for the veterans," she said.

"The study is clear," said another expert, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Obesity is a huge problem among veterans."

But she added that the results are "not completely convincing that the veterans are more likely to be obese than others." The sample, she said, might be skewed.

She praised the researchers for pointing out the need for a comprehensive approach to weight management for the VA Medical Centers. "The overall point that obesity is incredibly common in veterans and needs to be addressed is correct," she said.

Obesity raises the risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many other health problems.

More information

To learn more about obesity, visit the National Women's Health Information Center.

SOURCES: Linda S. Kinsinger, M.D., M.P.H., assistant director, Veterans Administration National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Durham, N.C.; Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., associate professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; April 2005 American Journal of Preventive Medicine
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