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“Today’s generation of youth may be the first in American history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents,” says Edward Gilmore, M.D. A longtime medical staff member of MDI Hospital, Dr. Gilmore attributes the decline in longevity, in part, to an increasingly common group of risk factors that, when combined, foreshadow an abbreviated life.

Metabolic syndrome, so named because it is tied to the body’s metabolism, is a collection of unhealthy conditions that are powerful predictors of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Currently, it is estimated that over 50 million Americans have it.

The characteristics of metabolic syndrome include abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, reduced “good” cholesterol (HDL), and an elevated fasting glucose. “Patients with three or more of these conditions are considered to have metabolic syndrome,” explains Dr. Gilmore.

“As a powerful predictor of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the metabolic syndrome provides doctors with the opportunity to intervene and help their patients,” Dr. Gilmore adds.

“Treatment of the metabolic syndrome includes increased physical activity and weight reduction. Drugs play only a minor role,” says Dr. Gilmore. Experts agree that moderate physical activity for an average of at least 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week will help maintain a healthy weight. More may be needed for significant weight loss. “People should consult with their physician before beginning any exercise program,” cautions Dr. Gilmore.

In addition to exercise, Dr. Gilmore points out that weight loss is more a function of the amount of calories we take in than the type of food we eat. “What we eat is not as important as how much we eat,” stresses Dr. Gilmore.

One pound of fat contains approximately 3,500 calories. So to lose one pound per week a person should consume approximately 3,500 fewer calories per week than he or she burns. “This can be done by reducing daily intake by 500 calories per day. If this seems impossible, remember that physical activity also contributes significantly to weight loss,” adds Dr. Gilmore.

“The problems of physical inactivity and obesity often begin in childhood,” explains Dr. Gilmore. “Sixteen percent of all children and teens in the U.S. are overweight. Alarmingly, public health experts fear that today’s generation may be the first in recorded history whose lifespan may be shorter than their parents.”

The bottom line, says Dr. Gilmore is that Americans need to exercise more and eat less. However, he adds that lifestyle changes are major challenges that involve more than just the patients and their doctors. “We need widespread social changes, including parental education and commitment from the food industry, schools, and health care providers in an effort to prevent and treat the metabolic syndrome, and improve the prospects of a long life for our young.” 

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