More than two-thirds of women and almost three-quarters of men receiving care at Veterans Affairs outpatient facilities in 2000 were overweight – a higher percentage than among the general population – according to a new report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
One in three veterans in the study was obese, with a body mass index of 30 or higher, according to Linda Kinsinger, M.D., M.P.H., of the Veterans Administration National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and colleagues.
“Veterans who use VA facilities differ from the general population … being older, poorer and less educated, which are factors that may also contribute to their risk for obesity,” Kinsinger explains. They also tend to have a variety of illnesses, and obesity may be “both a risk factor for, and also a consequence of, chronic illnesses and their treatment.”
The study of medical records of 1.8 million veterans was the first comprehensive look at rates of obesity among veterans, according to the researchers. It found that 73 percent of men were overweight and 32.9 percent obese, compared with 67.2 percent and 27.5 percent in the general population. Among women in the VA system, 68.4 percent were overweight and 37.4 percent obese, compared with 61.9 percent and 33.4 percent in the general population.
In some respects, the findings are surprising because “obesity in adolescence often leads to obesity in adulthood. However, these veterans were unlikely to be obese in early adulthood when they were required to meet military weight requirements,” Kinsinger says.
The researchers discovered that obesity in women was most prevalent between the ages of 50 and 70. Among men, obesity was most prevalent between the ages of 30 and 70.
Among the veterans, Native American women and men had the highest prevalence of obesity, while rates of obesity were lowest among Asian-American women.
“In light of the extent of the national obesity epidemic, and without a single easy and effective treatment, it is imperative that public health organizations develop more effective strategies to deal with this problem,” Kinsinger says.
The VA is working on an evidence-based weight management program to use in its medical facilities. Kinsinger says the unique nature of the VA program, with its integrated electronic records system and open access to care, provides an “opportunity to test and implement systemic changes in medical care delivery to improve the health care of overweight and obese patients
The study was supported by the VA National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.