- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

Hospital stays of obese Americans more than doubled between 1996 and 2004, with women accounting for most of the increase, a federal study has found.

U.S. hospital discharge data for 2004 showed 126,000 patients were admitted specifically for treatment of obesity, and nearly 82 percent of those patients were women.

Another 1.6 million patients were hospitalized that year for other conditions but had obesity listed as a secondary diagnosis. Women represented 64 percent of that group, according to the study by researchers for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While U.S. hospitalizations for obesity rose 112 percent in eight years, “the total number of hospitalizations for any condition increased by about 13 percent during this same time period,” the report stated.

Agency researchers are baffled by the sharp gender disparity in such hospitalizations because men and women have very similar rates of obesity in the United States.

In 2004, for example, 31.1 percent of men and 33.2 percent were classified as obese.

“I honestly don’t know the reason” for the disparity, said Anne Elixhauser, a senior research scientist with the agency and co-author of the online report.

But Dr. Michelle Magee, who sees a lot of obese women patients as director of the MedStar Diabetes Institute at Washington Hospital Center, said: “Two-thirds of our patients are women. More women see doctors than men do.”

She said women are more at risk because they tend to gain weight throughout the childbearing years.

Among hospital patients whose primary diagnosis was obesity, nearly all — 99.6 percent — were diagnosed as being morbidly obese. Someone described as being morbidly obese is at least twice his or her ideal weight, 100 pounds or more overweight, or has a body mass index greater than 39.

In 2004, half of those hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of obesity sought gastric bypass or stomach reduction surgery, the agency’s study found.

Coronary atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, was the primary diagnosis in patients whose obesity co-existed with another disorder. That was followed by nonspecific chest pain, congestive heart failure, osteoarthritis, skin and subcutaneous infections, heart attack and depression.

Ms. Elixhauser said she thought it was important to “get these findings out to the public for the holidays,” so people will be more careful about how much and what they eat.

“Obesity has become a bigger problem in the past decade, and it is really a major problem right now. In fact, it is one of the biggest public health problems this nation is facing, since it affects every organ of the body,” she said.

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