Obesity on the increase in Washington state, study finds

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 1, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- American obesity rates continue to rise, and Washington state is not immune to the epidemic. For the third year in a row, Washington's adult obesity rate increased, with one in four residents now considered obese.

Washington ranks 28th among states in the annual "F as in Fat" report released Wednesday by the Trust for America's Health.

Washington's young people, ages 10 to 17, are middle of the pack when it comes to weight, ranking 33rd among the states with nearly one-third of children overweight. Last year, the report didn't include data for young people, so it's unclear whether the number of overweight children in Washington state has grown or shrunk.

"So far the actions that have been taken against obesity are too few and too weak," said Dr. James S. Marks, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which co-sponsored the report. "The future and health and wealth of the country demands we face the obesity epidemic with the seriousness it deserves."

The findings of the report are grim. The only state with an adult obesity rate below 20 percent was Colorado, at 18.9 percent.

For the fourth consecutive year, Mississippi has the fattest population in America, with 32.5 percent of adults considered obese and 44.4 percent of children ages 10-17 registering as overweight.

No state saw a statistically significant decrease in obesity rates.

However, that doesn't mean the explosion of diets and exercise programs are for naught.

"We are beginning to see early signs of hope," Marks said in a telephone conference call with reporters.

Among the positive signs are that 19 states have school lunch policies stricter than the Department of Agriculture guidelines, and every state has some sort of physical education requirement in public schools. Additionally, last year's report showed 37 states with an increase in obesity rates, while this year had only 23 states, including Washington, experiencing an increase.

The report quotes experts as saying that the best way to ensure the obesity epidemic is eased is to give it a higher public profile.

"It's essential that we deal with obesity as an essential part of health reform," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health. "Today's generation is on course to be the first generation to live shorter, less healthy lives."

With about a third of children nationally being overweight, the report emphasized that steps need to be taken not only in schools, but in communities, especially low-income ones, where crime rates can keep kids inside and an average meal connotes a walk to a fast food joint down the street.

"Kids are not able to eat healthier foods unless their parents purchase healthy food," Marks said. "To change community norms, you have to reach out to adults and kids. That's what they did with smoking."

Also at issue are overweight baby boomers, whose excess baggage could further stress the Medicare and Medicaid systems.

"People's quality of life will be dramatically diminished by going into their later years overweight," Marks said.

Among the strategies suggested by the report are universal health benefits for the obese, a nationwide campaign to ensure communities are conducive to healthy living, and greater education for children on the importance of maintaining a healthy weight.

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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