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Public EnemiesHarvey Chan

Public Enemies (continued)

Most Underestimated


When it comes to top killers, diabetes is the most underestimated. The chronic disease underlies a significant percentage of fatal heart attacks and strokes, says Elizabeth Selvin, PhD ’04, MPH, associate professor, Epidemiology.


Worldwide, 347 million people have diabetes, and diabetes deaths globally will increase by two-thirds between 2008 and 2030, according to WHO. Overweight and obesity are now linked to more deaths worldwide than is underweight, WHO reports. Some developing nations are dealing with dual epidemics; malnutrition/famine and obesity/diabetes, Selvin says, adding: “Diabetes and obesity start among the well-to-do, then settle in the middle- and low-income classes.”


Selvin is amazed—and alarmed—by data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that compares the body mass index of Americans today with that of just three decades ago: “It’s remarkable to see such a complete and dramatic shift of distribution of body fat, indicating a tremendous increase over just these past 25 years of people who are overweight or obese.” Especially sobering: In the 1970s, about 5 percent of American kids were overweight or obese; now, almost 20 percent are.

Final Take

“It’s scary to think that the obesity/diabetes epidemic potentially could, in the near future, impact life expectancy by wiping out some major gains we’ve made in cardiovascular disease.”



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