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Corinna Warren, MD, St. Luke's Hospital

Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in the obesity epidemic

Obesity is an epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obese Americans has doubled since the mid-seventies. Today, one in three adults, including women, struggles with obesity.

Obesity is measured by body mass index, or BMI. It is a measure of your weight in relation to your height. Your primary care physician can provide you this number. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk of developing serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Why do women find themselves part of the dismal obesity statistics? A variety of genetic, behavioral and environmental factors play a role. But the simple reason is that our lives are more hectic than they were decades ago.

Women who have children often spend more time driving to their children's extracurricular activities than burning calories through exercise.

Eating out is also more common for today's busy women. On many days, you may be more apt to head to the drive-through than cook a non-processed meal from scratch. The other challenge with eating out is that portion sizes and sugar content have increased. Remember when adults ordered single hamburgers and small fries? They did.

Preparing a home-cooked meal and playing in the yard with your children, as simple as those things may sound, can make a big difference in your weight and overall health.

Also, eating three healthy meals and two small snacks each day, making sure to include lean protein, will give your body the energy it needs and prevent you from feeling hungry. Eating breakfast is essential and has been shown to decrease calorie consumption later in the day.

Drinking less soda will also make a positive impact on your health. Try quenching your thirst with water, milk and non-sweetened iced tea. Beware of diet sodas, too. Artificial sweeteners may increase the body's craving for more sweets and carbohydrates.

It's also important to get a good night's sleep and reduce stress whenever possible. A clear head can help you make healthy choices, and simplifying your schedule can leave time for exercise.

Corinna Warren, MD, specializes in internal medicine at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-205-6605 or visit her Meet the Doctor page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 16, 2009.