Obesity rates increase despite emphasis on losing weight

McClatchy NewspapersJune 29, 2010 

Through frequent media attention and new government initiatives like First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, there has been a mounting focus on obesity in the U.S. this year.

But according to a nationwide report released Tuesday, American waistlines continue to expand.

Like in 28 other states, obesity went up in Kansas and Missouri at a statistically significant rate, Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported.

The nonprofits ranked Missouri and Kansas as the 12th and 16th fattest states in the country, respectively. That's up from last year's spots of 13th for Missouri and 18th for Kansas.

In Missouri, 29.3 percent of adults are obese. In Kansas, 28.2 percent.

The data averages the last three years (2007-2009) and compares it to the prior three years (2006-2008).

The Missouri and Kansas figures are an increase of at least 1 percentage point between reporting periods. Both have more than doubled since 1992.

The nonprofits ranked Missouri and Kansas as the 12th and 16th fattest states in the country, respectively. That's up from last year's spots of 13th for Missouri and 18th for Kansas.

In Missouri, 29.3 percent of adults are obese. In Kansas, 28.2 percent.

The data averages the last three years (2007-2009) and compares it to the prior three years (2006-2008).

The Missouri and Kansas figures are an increase of at least 1 percentage point between reporting periods. Both have more than doubled since 1992.

"This is the single biggest health problem that confronts the state … in terms of what it's costing us in shortened lives, unnecessary disease and preventable medical costs," said Jason Eberhart-Phillips, state health officer and director of health at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Nationally, more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. With a 33.8 percent obesity rate, Mississippi topped the list for a sixth year in a row. Colorado had the lowest obesity rate at 19.1 percent.

The most frequently cited standard for obesity is a person's body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height.

A BMI of 30 is the baseline for being considered obese. For a 6-foot tall person that means weighing 221 pounds.

A BMI between 25 and 29.9 — someone the same height who weighs between 184 and 221 pounds — indicates someone is overweight.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers a healthy weight for a 6-foot tall person to be between 140 and 184 pounds: a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9.

Pat Simmons, a nutrition specialist with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said people's weight issues are mostly due to their lifestyles and personal decision-making.

But, she added, a number of environmental factors come into play as well.

"Many people don't have places to be active or don't have access to healthy food," Simmons said. "Either it's too expensive or not close by."

Jeff Levi, Trust for America’s Health executive director, said there are a number of policy and environmental changes that can be made to make it easier to exercise and to increase access to healthy foods, but he said personal responsibility is also a major factor.

“We have to take ownership of this,” he said, “that each of us has a responsibility to think about how we live, how active we are, as adults, what kind of role model we serve to children and, as employers, what opportunities we provide our staff to make these healthy choices.”

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