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WASHINGTON - More Americans soon will be dying of obesity than from smoking if current trends persist, which would make being overweight the nation's No. 1 cause of preventable death, according to a study released yesterday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A poor diet and physical inactivity caused 400,000 deaths in 2000, a 33 percent jump over 1990, the study points out. Tobacco-related deaths in the same period climbed by less than 9 percent to 435,000 as the gap between the two narrowed substantially. At this rate, obesity will claim the top spot, the report said.
"We're just too darn fat, ladies and gentlemen, and we're going to do something about it," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said at a news conference.
The House will debate a bill today that would shield restaurants and fast food franchises from lawsuits seeking to blame them for obesity and health problems related to it. The bill was prompted by the fast-food industry's complaints about a rash of lawsuits that fault their food for Americans' bulging bellies.
"If you eat a lot of food and you get sick, it's your responsibility, and not the restaurant's," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
The CDC study is the latest in a line of research that documents widespread weight gain, and its consequences, among Americans from children to the elderly.
The researchers analyzed data from 2,000 for the leading causes of death and for those preventable factors known to contribute to them. Like tobacco, obesity and inactivity increase the risks for the top three killers: heart disease, cancer and such cerebrovascular ailments as strokes. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle also strongly increase the risk of diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death.
The results appear in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.
The Food and Drug Administration also is expected to issue a report on obesity this week. The FDA has been considering whether to require restaurants to provide more nutrition information and change nutrition labels on food sold in grocery stores and other outlets to help consumers.