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: Trimming the Fat? The Weighty Issue of Obesity in the United States

Trimming the Fat? The Weighty Issue of Obesity in the United States

Managing Editor

For the first time in three decades, adult obesity rates in the United States have NOT increased. According to the F as in Fat 2013 report from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, obesity rates among adults in every state except for Arkansas leveled out last year, and we've fallen to number 2 for obesity rates worldwide behind Mexico, which sports an adult obesity rate of 32.8 percent; our rate is 31.8 percent.


But that's pretty much where the "good" news ends. Although overall obesity rates among American adults have leveled out, the rate of extreme obesity-100 pounds or more overweight-has increased among both adults and children. The percentage of individuals falling into the category of extreme obesity in the 1970s was 1.4 percent. That number had jumped to 6.3 percent in 2009-2010-or roughly a 350 percent increase.


State Breakdown


Although high across the board, obesity rates are fairly concentrated in certain areas of the county, mainly the South and the Midwest. The five states with the highest obesity rates are:

1. Louisiana (34.7%)

2. Mississippi (34.6%)

3. Arkansas (34.5%)

4. West Virginia (33.8%)

5. Alabama (33%)


Meanwhile, of the states with the 20 highest rates of obesity, Pennsylvania is the only state not located in the south or the Midwest, suggesting that significant efforts should be-or continue to be-targeted to those areas. On the other side of the spectrum, Colorado has the lowest obesity rate of all states at 20.5 percent.


Chronic Problem of Chronic Diseases


But the fact that we've got an obesity problem in this country is not new. There are scary statistics about obesity and associated chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Here are some critical numbers highlighted in the report:

  • Health care services associated with chronic disease cost between $147 and $210 billion per year
  • According to the CDC, more than one-half of Americans have a chronic disease
  • Seven out of 10 deaths in the United States are caused by chronic diseases


But on the positive side, there are also some grassroots interventions highlighted in the report that I think deserve some attention for the impact they are having on healthy living. These programs focus on children, not adults, and I believe there's no better place to start.


Focus on Increasing Physical Education


National recommendations call for children and adolescents to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. However, fewer than 30 percent of high school students are active for the recommended amount of time. Furthermore, only 20 percent of school districts in the country require daily recess. The Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) is the only federal funding program dedicated to providing federal grants to fund physical education and nutrition programs. PEP is authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which appropriated $74.6 million to the program in 2013.


Promoting Healthy Eating Among Children


Millions of children rely on school meals programs for most-and sometimes, sadly, all-of their meals during a day. According to the report, approximately 12.5 million children eat breakfast and 31 million children eat lunch at school each school day, with school meals accounting for 50 percent of their daily calorie intake. However, according to the F as in Fat report, schools are selling an additional 400billion calories per year of junk food. But on June 27, 2013, the USDA updated nutrition standards for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. The new standards, which are called " Smart Snacks in Schools," are for foods and beverages sold on school campus but outside of the meals program. The standards call for increased availability of healthier foods and limits for sugar, fat, and sodium.


Just the Beginning


Whether we're talking about children, adolescents, or adults, obesity is something we should be taking seriously. And this includes discussion not just of obesity but also of inadequate nutrition and lack of physical activity. It's important that we look at problems regarding lack of healthy food options and safe places for children to play, as many people legitimately are not afforded such luxuries. And for those of us who have such options, it's time to take charge; eat better, move more, and live longer!

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