Obesity is getting bigger in the United States
July 7th, 2011
05:59 PM ET

Obesity is getting bigger in the United States

Two-thirds of all adults and about a third of all children and teenagers in the United States are overweight or obese according to a report release Thursday by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

According to "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2011," adult obesity increased in 16 states during the past year and rates soared to 30% or more in these 12 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. Four years ago, only one state - Mississippi - had an adult obesity rate of more than 30%. No state showed a decrease  in it obesity rate in Thursday's report.

Nine of the 10 states with the highest adult obesity numbers are in the South. Mississippi, for the seventh year in a row, had the highest adult obesity rate at 34.4%. Colorado, at 19.8%, had the lowest, and in fact is the only state in the country with an adult obesity rate under 20%. Twenty years ago no rate was above 15%. The report found rates grew fastest in Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma and slowest in Colorado, Connecticut and the District of Columbia.

"There was a clear tipping point in our national weight gain over the last twenty years," said Jeff Levi, Executive director of TFAH.  "And we can't afford to ignore the impact obesity has on our health and corresponding health care spending."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical costs associated with obesity are staggering– totaling about $147 billion in 2008.   More than 80% of people in this country with type-2 diabetes are overweight and new diagnoses doubled in 10 years, according to Thursday's report.  Overweight and obese people are at risk of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke. They may also be at greater risk of colon, kidney and esophageal cancer.

African Americans, Latinos, those with low incomes and less education had the highest overall rates, topping 30 to 40% in many states. The report found about 33% of adults who made less than $15,000 a year or did not graduate from high school were obese.

The researchers found that a lack of access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthful foods in some neighborhoods and a dearth of safe community areas for families to walk and for children to play all factor into the obesity epidemic.

But there's more to it. "Portion sizes in restaurants are much larger than they have been, soft drinks at convenience stores are much larger than they have been," said Dr. James Marks, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "When people have a larger size they will eat more. Snacking has gone up more and more. All of these things contribute."

"We've built inactivity into our lifestyles. We've designed communities around cars," said Levi. "Kids are watching TV and sitting around computers. We've found plenty of ways to entertain ourselves that don't include activity."

"The information in this report should spur us all - individuals and policymakers alike - to redouble our efforts to reverse this debilitating and costly epidemic," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Changing policies is an important way to provide children and families with vital resources and opportunities to make healthier choices easier in their day-to day-lives."

Recommendations include making sure all food and drinks sold in schools meet the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, increasing access to quality and affordable foods, expanding the amount and intensity of physical activity in schools and in out-of-school programs, increasing physical activity by providing communities safe places to walk, bike and play, introducing pricing incentives to help people buy healthier foods and regulating how and where unhealthy foods are marketed to children.

Marks says what's particularly tragic is the increase in type 2 diabetes among younger adults and kids. "Since the 1970s, the rate of obesity has tripled or quadrupled in children," said Marks. "We've got an even larger problem coming in our children."

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