While the West Nile Virus is making the headlines these days, more Americans are dying from diseases that have been around for many decades. The Centers for Disease Control calls them chronic diseases. We know them as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and they're now among the most common killers in the US.
Many people have been worrying about getting West Nile Virus, but consider this: since 1999 only 143 people have died from West Nile. What the CDC believes America needs to start worrying about is things we can all control, being too fat and smoking cigarettes. This year, those two will kill over 700,000 Americans.
Dr. David Fleming of the CDC told us, "The epidemic of obesity in this country is just the beginning of the epidemic of diabetes for the next generation."
"Obesity rates in children have tripled in the last two decades and that means it's not genetic," added Dr. James Marks, director of the National Center for Chronic Disease. "What we used to call adult onset diabetes is occurring in children. Adult diabetes used to occur in the 50s, now more in the 30s.
"Diabetes is the most expensive disease there is and has horrible complications: blindness, amputations, kidney disease," said Dr. Fleming.
Here's how they figured this out. The CDC conducts health surveys all over the country with the help of a computer that randomly selects telephone numbers. They use the same method to select schools, where students complete the surveys.
We've all heard it before: we need to exercise more and eat less, but many times we cheat ourselves saying we don't have the time to do this kind of exercise. But you probably didn't know in the long run, you could make yourself sick or even kill yourself.
Dr. Marks provided a sobering statistic: "If you're a 50-year-old who's overweight, smoke and don't exercise, you have a 500 percent greater chance of having diabetes, heart disease, or stroke versus a 50-year-old who doesn't smoke, is active and maintains a normal weight."
But you can improve those odds.
"We also know changes made at 50, 60, 65, it's never too late," advised Dr. Marks. "Those changes are good for your heart."
But even the experts admit it isn't all our fault. Cities are partly to blame. As the population increases and areas become more crowded, urban design effects our health, as Dr. Marks describes: "No stairs, neighborhoods less likely to have sidewalks and crosswalks. Kids who live within a mile of the school are much more likely to be driven to school. We've made it harder for people to make the right choice."
You don't have to run a marathon, but simply put, get off your seat and on your feet. Use the stairs, don't take the closest parking space, eat a healthy diet. And remember, just because it's on your plate, you don't have to eat it. These small changes could add more healthy years to your life. The CDC is even taking a step in the right direction at the places it works. They've renovated the stairs, made them more attractive to encourage employees to walk instead of use the elevators. In some buildings, the stairs light up as they walk and workers have decorated the stairways with pictures. All of this is in hopes of making exercise easier and more appealing.
Even though we all worry about the West Nile, according to the CDC, diseases caused by tobacco use and obesity are now and will continue to be the number one killers in the US.