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Diet Or Die

The government reported today that America's obesity problem is still growing, amid mounting evidence of the serious health risks of being overweight.

CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports on a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey that finds during the 1990s, obesity among American adults increased 60 percent.

In the last year alone, weight gain occurred in all regions and ethnic groups. Whites got the fattest--obesity in that group increased 7%. Among people aged 30-to 39-years-old, obesity increased 10%.

Those increases may have fatal consequences.

According to the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, obesity--considered a chronic disease since 1985--is the second leading cause of preventable death.

"As many as 300,000 deaths per year may be linked to obesity through poor nutrition and decreased physical activity," said Barbara Bowman of the CDC.

The rate of diabetes, now the nation's sixth-leading killer, skyrocketed an astonishing 70 percent in the last year among people in their 30s.

Thirty-six-year-old Terrence Knox was diagnosed a year ago, after hitting 275 on the scale.

"For about two weeks I was like, 'Wow, diabetes!'" he recalled. "It scared me."

Now Knox is shaving off the pounds, but he will not shake diabetes.

Dr. Gerald Bernstein, a diabetes expert, fears that will also be the prognosis for generations to come.

"What's even more shocking is that type 2 diabetes--old-age diabetes associated with 50-, 60-, 70-year-olds--is now being seen in 9-, 10- and 15-year-olds," Bernstein said.

Diabetes is a disease that impairs the body's ability to produce insulin, a chemical that allows the body's cells to absorb sugars. It causes a build-up of sugars in the blood.

Its effects are devastating. Heart disease is two- to four times more common among people with diabetes, as is the risk for stroke. Sixty percent of diabetics suffer from high blood pressure, and up to 70 percent have nerve damage. They are also most at risk for kidney disease, foot and leg amputations and blindness among people 20- to 74-years-old.

Along with obesity and physical inactivity, diabetes risk factors include age, heredity and race: blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and some Asians are more likely to get diabetes than whites.

The CDC's statistics reflect a trend that health experts call the public health crisis of our time, one that a simple diet will no longer fix.

Americans have to be re-educated about the importance of physical activity and food, experts say, not as a lifestyle choice but as a life-saving choice.

A report last year by the Surgeon General, which stated 20-minute sessions of strenuous exercise three times a week as the minimum, found that more than 60 percent of American adults don't exercise enough, and that 25 percent don't exercise at all.

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