Obesity in America Continues to Expand
Obesity rates continue to climb in every state except Oregon, and government policies and actions offer little hope of reversing the trend, according to a new report Tuesday from the Trust for America’s Health.
The report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America, 2005, found that Mississippi is the heaviest state, while Colorado is the least heavy.
More than 25 percent of adults in 10 states are obese – Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and South Carolina.
“Across the board, we have every state failing to meet the national goal of 15 percent or less of the population being obese,” Shelley Hearne, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, told a press conference.
“Bulging waistlines are growing, and they are going to cost taxpayers more dollars, and it’s going to cost us in years of life and quality of life, regardless of where you live,” Hearne added. “We can, and must, do better to start to turn around this obesity epidemic.”
Added study co-author Parris Glendening, president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute: “About 119 million Americans are either overweight or obese. That’s 64.5 percent of adult Americans.”
Excess weight is known to cause a variety of health problems, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
The number of obese American adults rose from 23.7 percent in 2003 to 24.5 percent in 2004. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set a national goal that obesity would be reduced by 15 percent by 2010. An estimated 16 percent of active duty U.S. military personnel are obese, and obesity is the biggest reason for discharging soldiers, Glendening noted.
In addition, people on food stamps are more likely to be obese compared with higher income individuals, Glendening said. “There is a link between obesity and those with lower incomes and less education,” he added.
Glendening said that to fight the obesity epidemic, a combination of individual responsibility and government policy is needed.
“While it is indisputable that individual behavior – eating less and exercising more – is critical to addressing obesity, the government and private industry also have important roles to play in setting policies and taking actions that make it easier to help people make healthy choices,” he said.
The report criticizes government policies as insufficient and too narrowly focused to have a significant impact on countering the obesity problem.
“The bottom line is that there is a lot more that could and should be done to help people with nutrition and exercise,” Glendening said.
Glendening and Hearne believe that both state and federal governments can institute policies to help Americans shape up. They include combating suburban sprawl by increasing recreation space, and improving nutrition and physical education in schools.
“To really see a change in people’s health, these programs must grow significantly,” Glendening said.
“We have a crisis in poor nutrition and physical activity in this country,” Hearne added. “It’s simple math: we are eating more and exercising less. And it’s time we deal with it in a much more systematic and realistic way.”
An outside expert put it even more starkly.
“Obesity is arguably the gravest public health threat in the United States today,” said Dr. David L. Katz, the director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.
Obesity is among the root causes of almost every major chronic disease you face, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breathing disorders and cancer, he added.
“This new report indicating that we are not doing enough to control obesity should come as no surprise,” Katz said. “We are, in fact, doing quite a lot to make obesity worse. New technologies that decreases our physical activity; new processed food products that combine tasty calories with poor nutrition; time wasted on silly distractions such as fad diets, and policies and politics that squeeze physical activity and opportunities for good nutrition out of the typical work and school day all conspire against us.”
Katz said that it will take a massive and comprehensive effort to turn around the array of “obesigenic” factors that conspire against everyone.
“But the effort will be worth it,” he added. “Without it, we face rising rates of chronic disease for as far ahead as we can see. That is simply not a future any of us can accept.”