In Brief

According to a study in the March 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, preventable behaviors such as tobacco use, poor diet and physical inactivity are the underlying cause of half of deaths in the United States.

In fact, poor diet and lack of exercise may soon overtake smoking as the country's leading killer, the report says.

Ali H. Mokdad, PhD, and colleagues from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a meta-analysis to identify and quantify the leading causes of U.S. deaths. According to data reported to CDC in 2000, tobacco was responsible for 435,000 deaths, poor diet and physical inactivity caused 400,000 deaths, and alcohol consumption was responsible for 85,000 deaths. If current trends continue, the report notes, obesity's death toll will reach more than 500,000 by next year.

In response to the study, several major government agencies--and the Bush administration--announced plans to combat the obesity epidemic. Bush said he planned to launch a public education campaign designed to encourage Americans to lose weight. The National Institutes of Health proposed an anti-obesity research agenda that includes a focus on behavioral causes and preventive methods, and the Food and Drug Administration is examining how it can help reduce obesity.

This study, says APA President-elect Ronald F. Levant, EdD, brings to light the impact that psychology can have on mortality. "To reduce morbidity and mortality, we must build into the nation's health-care system the systematic use of psychological health promotion and disease-management programs," he explains.

Indeed, the study's authors write, "Our findings indicate that interventions to prevent and increase cessation of smoking, improve diet and increase physical activity must become much higher priorities in the public health and health-care systems."

--J. DAW HOLLOWAY

Further Reading

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