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Excess weight is a serious problem for American women, 2 7 percent of whom are overweight. The prevalence of overweight is greater among women of color. Seventy percent of young women try to lose weight and dissatisfaction with body weight continues into adulthood.

Strategies to maintain healthy weight and prevent further weight gain are vital to improve women's health and quality of life. Dietitians are essential in assisting women to deal with their weight in terms of health rather than cosmetics.

What is known

Women have greater overall weight gains and experience more notable weight fluctuations than men.

Fifty-two percent of women consider themselves to be overweight, and 40 percent are trying to lose weight.

Obesity increases women's risk for at least five of the leading causes of death--heart disease, stroke, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and some types of cancer.

Seventy percent of obese children remain obese as adults.

Weight alone is not a sufficient measure to assess disease risk. Total body fat, fat distribution, and the consequences of dieting must be considered as well.

The racial and ethnic differences in prevalence of excess weight are striking: 45 percent in African American women; 41 percent in Mexican American women; 40 percent in Puerto Rican American women; 32 percent in Cuban American women; and 25 percent in white women.

What is not known

What factors are most important to the development of obesity, weight maintenance, successful weight management, and overall health? How are these factors affected by hormonal influences over the life span?

Which method or combination of methods for evaluating weight, adiposity and fat distribution best reveals current health or risk of morbidity?

Are there gender differences in eating patterns and diet composition?

What are the consequences of dieting behaviors, eating patterns, and food choices on overall health and longevity, and how do these components interact with exercise/activity?

What are the implications of obesity and of treatment failures in terms of psychological distress, decreased quality of life and long-term health?

How is a woman's susceptibility to obesity affected by genetic, hormonal, psychological, biological and environmental factors?

How can we change the way women perceive food and its relationship to their body and their health?

How do weight fluctuations affect a woman's risk of disease?

How can we emphasize health goals over cosmetic goals in weight loss and maintenance?

What is the cost-benefit ratio of disease prevention through weight maintenance and weight loss, vs. the treatment of exacerbated and chronic diseases resulting from the failure to maintain healthy body weight?

How do we define a "healthy" weight, and what specific recommendations can be made for individuals, as well as for subpopulations?

This fact sheet is based on 'The role of weight management in the health of women," by Sachiko T. St Jeor, PhD, RD, Professor and Director of Nutrition Education and Research, University of Nevada, School of Medicine, which appears in full in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, September, 1993.

The American Dietetic Association authorizes republication of this fact sheet in its entirety provided full and proper credit is given.

The Nutrition & Health Campaign for Women is sponsored by The American Dietetic Association, 216 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995; 312/899-0040.

Copyright 1998
The American Dietetic Association
216 West Jackson Boulevard
Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995
FAX: 312/899-1979