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New Year's Resolutions

Quit smoking. Lose weight. These two New Year's Resolutions top the list in the US every year. No wonder, with obesity and related diseases such as diabetes on the rise, and increasing restrictions on acceptable public smoking areas that make lighting up a challenge.

Obesity and smoking are the top threats to the nation's health, according to the 16th annual America's Health Rankings" (AHR) report, summarized in a USA Today article on 14 December 2005.

The AHR report assesses the nation's health on a state-by-state basis and examines influences on health, such as smoking and nutrition.

Although Americans' overall health has improved by 18.4% since 1990, the improvement rate is slowing down.

"In the 1990s, we were seeing a 1.5% increase year over year," according to Reed Tuckson, vice president of the United Health Foundation, which publishes the AHR report in partnership with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. United Health Foundation is a non-profit research group established by UnitedHealth Group, a private health insurance and health services company, according to USA Today.

Smoking and Obesity Statistics

Since 2000, the average annual increase in national health has slipped to 0.3%, in large part because of smoking and obesity. Although the percentage of smokers has declined 30% overall since 1990, 20.8% of Americans still smoke.

"People are going to have to start making choices if our nation is going to reach its full potential," Tuckson said, according to USA Today. "Smoking remains the most important risk factor for the prevention of disease and premature death."

Obesity's upward trend makes it an equally worrying health risk - the incidence of obesity rose from 11.6% in 1990 to 23.1% last year for Americans aged 18 years and up, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the last year alone, 2.6% more Americans (1.5 million) are classified as obese, according to the CDC.

"The impact this will have on other diseases that are related to obesity, especially diabetes, which then is related to diseases like heart disease and kidney disease, is significant," Tuckson reported to USA Today. "What we can expect is that more people will be living with secondary disease. They will die sooner, and they will drive up health care costs."

Residents of 28 countries can expect more years of healthy living than US residents, Tuckson reportedly said. The US has 69.3 years, while Japan has 75 years (the longest health expectancy), followed by France (72 years), Germany (71.8 years) and the U.K. (70.6 years).

"What this is telling us is that we have not reached anywhere near our biological potential as human beings. We have a ways to go," Tuckson reported to USA Today.

Kicking the Habit in 2006

Quitting smoking is seldom easy. Each year, 34% of smokers try to quit, but only about 2.5% succeed, according to eMedicine Health. Nevertheless, 1 million Americans annually successfully quit smoking.

Apart from the health risks it poses, smoking is also becoming more expensive - and more inconvenient. Cigarette prices continue to rise, and more companies are severely restricting smoking areas or requiring employees who smoke to contribute more to their own health insurance. (See related article.)

Some health insurers will help pay for drugs to help subscribers stop smoking -check to see if yours does.

Drugs used to help people quit smoking include nicotine-replacement therapy and prescription drugs that may alleviate symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Drug Treatment

Nicotine Replacement Therapy replaces nicotine from cigarettes with nicotine from lozenges, chewing gum, a patch or a nasal spray.
Examples include Commit Lozenges, Nicorette Gum, Nicoderm C-Q Patch, Nicotrol Patch, and Nicotrol Nasal Spray.

Bupropion (Zyban SR), (also prescribed as an antidepressant under the brand name Wellbutrin), been found in some cases to help ease the withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking.

Getting Help

Talk to your health practitioner about drugs and counseling options to help quit smoking.

Smokers often need support when trying to quit. To help locate a smoking cessation support group in your area, contact your local chapter of the American Lung Association.

These websites offer useful information about quitting smoking and the treatment of smoking-related diseases:

Lose Weight and Keep It Off

Over the past 20 years, obesity among adults in the US has risen sharply. In fact, 30% of adults aged 20 years and older are obese - over 60 million people - according to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Younger people are also increasingly overweight. Since 1980, the percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled. Now, among children and teens aged 6-19 years, 16% (over 9 million young people) are considered overweight, according to figures from the NCHS.*

The epidemic of obesity has wide implications for over all health, as obesity increases the risk of many health conditions and diseases, including:

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, although reducing the prevalence of obesity to <15% among adults by the year 2010 is a national health objective, the situation appears to be worsening.

Drug Treatment

There are a number of drugs approved by the FDA to assist with weight loss.

Appetite Suppressants work by stimulating the central nervous system which increases your heart rate and blood pressure and decreases your appetite. These drugs are used as a short-term supplement to diet and exercise in the treatment of obesity.
Appetite Suppressants include
Benzphetamine (Didrex)
Diethylpropion (Tenuate, Tenuate Dospan)
Mazindol (Sanorex, Mazanor)
Phendimetrazine (Adipost, Anorex-SR, Bontril, Melfiat, Obezine, Phendiet, Plegine, Prelu-2, Statobex)
Phentermine (Adipex-P, Fastin, Ionamin, Obenix, Obephen, Oby-Cap, Phentercot, Phentride, Teramine, Zantryl)

Sibutramine (Meridia) is an appetite suppressant approved for long-term use.

Orlistat (Xenical) works by blocking about one-third of dietary fat from being absorbed, and is the most recently approved weight loss drug. Orlistat is also approved for long-term use.

Leptin and Weight Loss

Keeping the weight off is another challenge, but help from the hormone leptin may be available in the future, if recent studies prove correct.

According to researchers at Columbia University, leptin - a hormone involved in metabolism and hunger regulation - has been shown to help people who have lost weight to keep the weight off. To learn more about the recent study on leptin, click here.

Where to Start?

For many people struggling with obesity, the plethora of available weight loss methods -from diet books and over-the-counter weight loss products to custom slimming regimes -may be confusing and can be dangerous to a person's health, if not done under a doctor's supervision.

The best approach is to talk to your healthcare professional before embarking on any diet or exercise regime. Your doctor will also be able to advise you about prescription weight loss products that may help you to lose weight - and keep it off.

These websites offer useful information about the risks of obesity and finding ways to achieve a and maintain healthy weight:

Children and Obesity

USA's health gets bad marks for smoking, obesity, USA Today, 14 December 2005.
eMedicine Health -Cigarette Smoking
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Overweight and Obesity Prescription Medicine for the Treatment of Obesity

Posted: December 2005