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It looks like the great American preoccupation with weight loss is a losing proposition.

A new study, published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that one-third of American adults are now overweight - up 8 percent since a similar survey was taken over the five-year period of 1976 through 1980.The new survey for the years 1988 through 1991 found 31 percent of adult men and 35 percent of adult women - an estimated 58 million people - are now overweight.

It looks like chances are slim (no pun intended) for achieving the Healthy People 2000 objective of reducing the prevalence of overweight U.S. adults to no more than 20 percent by the year 2000. The Healthy People goals were set by the Department of Health and Human Services to improve health through prevention.

With all the emphasis on eating disorders, we must remember that obesity is still America's No. 1 nutritional problem, and the problem is getting worse, Dr. Scott Grundy, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, reminds us. Obesity leads to high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, which lead to heart attack and stroke.

The weight-gain study comes on the heels of new research showing there may be more health risks to obesity than previously thought.

Obesity may alter the immune system and create a vulnerability to certain diseases including cancer, according to research supported by the National Institute of Health's National Cancer Institute.

Although the injurious effects of obesity may not strike until the adult years, researchers recently found some clinical manifestations of disease associated with obesity in children as young as 9.

Losing weight often means reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, less diabetes, lower blood pressure, better immune function and - for us baby boomers - less stress on aging bones and muscles, which means fewer aches and pains.

The June issue of the Medical Essay, a supplement to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, examined some effective measures necessary to take off weight. These include making the commitment to lose weight because it's what you want to do, not because you want to please someone else.

The essay also recommends becoming more active, finding more healthful foods that you enjoy, making lifestyle changes and setting realistic monthly or weekly goals that allow you to check off successes.