New report offers grim data on America’s obesity problem

Posted July 08, 2011, at 6:56 p.m.
Last modified July 08, 2011, at 7:45 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — America continues to get fatter, according to a comprehensive new report on the nation’s weight crisis. Statistics from 2008-2010 show that 16 of the nation’s states are experiencing steep hikes in adult obesity, and none has seen a notable downturn in the last four years.

Meanwhile, cases of Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure that health experts have long warned would result from the nation’s broadening girth and sedentary ways are becoming increasingly widespread, according to the report, titled “F as in Fat,” released Thursday.

Even Coloradans, long the nation’s slimmest citizens, are gaining excess poundage. With an obese population of 19.8 percent (the only state with an adult obesity rate below 20 percent), Colorado remains the caboose on the nation’s huffing, puffing train to fatland.

But in just the last four years alone, the ranks of the obese even in Colorado have grown 0.7 percent. And Colorado’s hypertension rates have risen significantly as well — to encompass 21.2 percent of adults.

The report, prepared by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health, is the groups’ sixth annual state-by-state accounting of obesity.

In the last 15 years, the report said, adult obesity rates have doubled or near-doubled in 17 states. Two decades ago, not a single state had an obesity rate above 15 percent. Now they all do.

“When you look at it year by year, the changes are incremental,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health. But if you back up a generation and look at the slow but steady climb of Americans’ weight, he said, “you see how we got into this problem.”

Getting out of it will not be simple, Levi said. The report stressed the need for a range of measures, including boosting physical activity in schools, encouraging adults to get out and exercise, broadening access to affordable healthy foods and use of “pricing strategies” to encourage Americans to make better food choices.

“Until the government takes on the food industry, we’ll continue to see the appalling numbers in this report,” said Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who was not involved in the report. “These numbers signal an emergency, and we simply have to have the courage and resolve to do more than what we’re doing.

“Government could start by changing agricultural subsidies, by not make it financially attractive for companies to market unhealthy foods, by placing serious restrictions on marketing to children, and with financial policies that make healthy foods cost less and unhealthy foods cost more,” Brownell added.

The nation’s roughly 4.5 billion excess pounds still skews heavily to the southeast, with eight of the nation’s 10 most obese states clustered around the Gulf and Atlantic coasts and along the southern Appalachian mountains. Within the top 10, only Oklahoma and Michigan (which suffered a whopping hike in adult obesity of 1.2 percent in the last four years — the largest of any state) lie outside the South.

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