In response to ever-expanding waistlines in the U.S., an independent panel of medical experts recommends that doctors and other health providers screen all adults for obesity.
People who are obese should be offered intensive counseling and be advised on strategies for losing weight, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which advises government health agencies.
"We need to stem the rising epidemic of obesity in this nation," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a prepared statement. "These findings show that clinicians can have a significant impact on the health of their adult patients by screening for obesity and offering or referring patients to intensive counseling and behavioral interventions."
To see whether screening is a good idea, the panel reviewed a variety of scientific studies. Based on the available evidence, the panel concludes that body mass index, or BMI, is a reliable way of identifying people who are at increased risk of health problems because of overweight and obesity.
BMI is a measure of obesity that takes into account weight and height. A person with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, while someone with a BMI of 30 or more is obese.
According to the task force, there is enough evidence to show that high-intensity counseling - about diet, exercise or both - in combination with other weight-loss strategies can help obese people lose weight.
Studies have shown that weight loss can reduce several health risk factors, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar.
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