Harvard Women's Health Watch

Weight-loss surgery is an option for many

Surgery to reduce or bypass the stomach has risks, but so does extreme obesity.

Obesity among American women is leveling off, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a periodic assessment of American diet and health. Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducts the survey, found that the percentage of obese women did not increase between 1999 and 2004 (Journal of the American Medical Association, April 5, 2006). It's the first such slowdown in more than 25 years.

Only time will tell if this is a watershed moment in the obesity epidemic. In the meantime, America has a lot of weight to lose. More than 60% of women are overweight and 33% are obese, so putting on the brakes is not enough. Besides, NHANES data also showed that more women than ever have entered a weight category called severe or extreme obesity, once called morbid obesity because of its health effects. Extreme obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more, roughly equivalent to being 80 pounds overweight for women (100 for men). Of the more than six million Americans in this group, women outnumber men by more than two to one.

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