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When obesity becomes the norm, as it has, it's a sure sign that our unhealthy food supply, junk food advertising, car culture, screen-bound lifestyle and relentless stress about health, income and the future are out of control.

Even before the pandemic, there was an epidemic of obesity. New 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that in 12 states 35% or more of adults are obese, an increase from six states in 2017. And the pandemic hasn't improved our national health profile. COVID-19 makes being obese riskier for your overall health, and obesity makes it more likely you'll contract the virus.

Folks aren't making it any better, either. When the USC Center for the Digital Future surveyed 1,000 adults, 41% said they're eating more since the pandemic began; 33% said they're drinking more; 38% are using marijuana more; and 32% are exercising less. This increases the risk for cognition woes, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, gastro and kidney problems, and heart disease and premature death.

Some examples:

A new, first-ever study published in Brain Sciences shows that severely overweight people are less able to re-wire their brains and find new neural pathways, making it more difficult to recover from a stroke or head injury.

Belly fat, which afflicts most folks who have obesity, is far worse for you than fat in the thighs and hips. Recently researchers reviewed 72 studies involving over 2.5 million participants who were tracked for 3 to 24 years: For every 4-inch increase in waist circumference, they found there was an 11% jump in the risk for all-cause mortality. And every 0.1 unit increase in waist-to-hip ratio ups the risk by 20%. You can calculate your waist-to-hip ratio by dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference. A healthy WHR for women is 0.85; for men, 0.9.

What can you do to protect your heart and live longer? A new Cleveland Clinic study shows that losing 10% of your body weight through metabolic surgery or 20% from nonsurgical dieting can significantly reduce your risk of major heart complications. Dr. Ali Aminian, director of Cleveland Clinic's Bariatric & Metabolic Institute, and lead author of the study, says your risk of death also decreases — after a loss of 5% of body weight following surgery and after a loss of 20% of your body weight with conventional dieting.

This reinforces another study by the clinic published in JAMA that showed weight-loss surgery is associated with a 40% reduction in heart complications and the risk of death in folks who have both Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

If you're battling obesity, know it is an illness that can be defeated one achievable step at a time. Here are some small steps with big benefits.

Reduce your calorie intake by around 10% a day. A study in The Lancet found cutting 12% of your calorie intake over two years improves markers of cardiovascular health. Folks achieved lower levels of lousy LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation.

Increase the amount of vegetables and fruit you eat by one serving a day of each. An additional apple and 2 cups of raw leafy greens daily helps reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and prevents some cancers — and it promotes weight loss.

Get a pedometer. Measure how much you walk most days. If it's under 8,500 steps, add 1,000 to 1,500 steps to it, five to seven days a week for the next month. Twenty to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five-plus days a week reduces the risk of heart disease.

If you have a body mass index greater than 40 or have Type 2 diabetes and a BMI greater than 35, talk to your doctor about weight-loss surgery. It's not for everyone, but find out if it might be part of a smart solution for you in your battle with obesity.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit

(c)2020 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

King Features Syndicate

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