Thirty-one states showed increase in adult obesity during 2005

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

From staff and wire reports

The ever-growing waistlines of Americans expanded a little bit more in 2005 as 31 states registered an increase in obesity among adults.

Missouri ranked 16th in the United States in highest rate of adult obesity at 23.9 percent.

Approximately 119 million Americans or 64.5 percent of adults are either overweight or obese. The number of obese adults rose from 23.7 percent in 2003 to 24.5 percent in 2004, according to the Trust for America's Health.

The organization found that nine of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South: Mississippi continued to lead the way. An estimated 29.5 percent of adults there are considered obese. It's followed by Alabama and West Virginia.

Colorado remains the leanest state. About 16.9 percent of its adults are considered obese. That mark was also up slightly from last year's report, but not enough to be considered statistically significant.

The only state that experienced a decrease in the percentage of obese adults last year was Nevada.

"Obesity now exceeds 25 percent in 13 states, which should sound some serious alarm bells," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health.

The findings led some health-care experts to dispute the notion Tuesday that obesity is simply a personal choice. They say that finding ways to improve fitness needs more attention from the government, employers as well as the food and beverage industry.

Trust for America's Health said better information and access are the keys to improving health.

"If we're urging people to walk more and their streets are not safe, that's an unrealistic expectation," said Levi.

Raina Childers, a registered dietician and director of nutritional services at Southeast Missouri Hospital's HealthPoint Fitness Center in Cape Girardeau, said America's culture of dining out and overeating adds to the problem.

"The environment has gotten so unsupportive of good health," said Childers, who teaches a 20-week nutrition program called "Starting Point."

The program's goal is to educate people about what they are putting into their bodies and how much.

At most restaurants, servings are simply too large, she said. A popular fried onion treat has 2,000 calories, she said.

Childers said that when she dines out, she regularly puts half of her meal into a to-go box. She dines on the remainder of the meal and takes home the rest.

"You only get one body," she said.

"I tell people managing your weight will be the hardest thing you ever do," said Childers.

Both Southeast Missouri Hospital and Saint Francis Medical Center offer Biometrics, a weight-loss program that combines exercise and structured meals.

Saint Francis also plans to start a "Move It and Lose It" program on Sept. 11. The 10-week program involves exercise and nutrition.

Rachel Hessenkemper, health promotions specialist for the wellness department at Saint Francis Medical Center, said America's fast-food lifestyle is partly to blame for the obesity problem.

"You don't have time to cook a healthy meal, so you are grabbing something,' she said.

"We are eating big portions," said Hessenkemper. "We are super-sizing everything."

Americans aren't always smart about what they eat. Someone who loads up a salad might as well eat a cheeseburger, she said.

A can of regular soda has about 150 calories. Walking on a treadmill for 30 minutues will burn off about the same number of calories.

But many people don't exercise enough to burn off all the excess calories they consume daily, she said.

Southeast Missourian staff writer Mark Bliss contributed to the story.

Health officials warn that a high incidence of obesity in a particular state doesn't mean it treats the issue less seriously than others. States have different challenges to contend with, said Dr. Janet Collins of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Populations are not equal in terms of experiencing these health problems," Collins said. "Low-income populations tend to experience all the health problems we worry about at greater rates."

Trust for America's Health made scores of recommendations for reducing obesity. For example:

--Employers should offer benefits that help workers stay healthy, such as nutrition counseling and subsidized health club memberships.

--The government should mandate routine screenings that measure the fitness of Medicaid beneficiaries, plus subsidize or reimburse them for participating in exercise and fitness programs.

--Local governments should approve zoning and land-use laws that give people more chances to walk or bike to the store or to work. Local governments also should set aside more funding for sidewalks.

--The food and beverage industry should be clearer about the calories and fat content in their products. They estimate calories and fat on a per-serving basis. They should estimate based on the size of the product, which often contain two or three servings, or more.

The group also makes recommendations for individuals. But the recommendations that people eat well and exercise are known to Americans. And clearly, many just don't care to follow.

Collins said tobacco use is another area that could be labeled a personal choice, but government agencies have taken many steps to provide people with the environment and information they need to help them make their choices. The same should be done with obesity.

The report says the health costs associated with obesity are in the billions of dollars annually. Citing a 2004 report, the advocacy group said $5.6 billion could be saved when it comes to treating heart disease if just one-tenth of Americans began a regular walking program.

The group's estimate of obesity rates is based on a three-year average, 2003-2005. The data comes from an annual random sampling of adults via the telephone. The information is designed to help the government measure behavioral risks among adults.

Southeast Missourian staff writer Mark Bliss contributed to the story.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: