Although the medical community typically reserves use of the term "epidemic" for communicable disorders, one hears frequently in the media that the United States is in the midst of an "obesity epidemic." Indeed, according to researchers at the University of Washington, obesity rates range from a low of 17.6% of women in Falls Church City, Virginia, to a high of 59.3% of women in Issaquena County, Mississippi. (Researchers define obesity as a body mass index -- BMI -- of greater than or equal to 30. BMI is calculated by dividing an individual's weight in kilograms by the square of the person's height in meters.) According to 2005 data, 25% of all American children are overweight, and 11% are obese.
Excess body weight is a serious health problem, associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and infertility. Researchers explain that the US Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study indicates that because of the skyrocketing of obesity rates in the US in the past 20 years, "high BMI is now the third leading risk factor in terms of attributable disability-adjusted life years." Although pharmaceutical firms have developed drugs to manage some weight-related conditions, solving all of them requires addressing the root cause and reversing the obesity trend.