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The Daily Need

A growing epidemic

Photo: Flickr/awrose

Americans are larger than ever before. Two-thirds of U.S. adults and nearly one-third of children and teenagers are currently obese or overweight.

The annual “F as in Fat” report, released this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health, reveals that there were no decreases in obesity rates in any of the 50 U.S. states in 2010.

An obese person is defined as having a body mass index, or BMI of more than 30, which translates to about 30 pounds of excess weight on a 5’4” adult. Overweight adults have a BMI of 25 to 29.9.

The report’s findings continue recent trends. Twenty years ago, not one state had an obesity rate of more than 15 percent. Four years ago, only one state had an obesity rate of more than 30 percent. In 2010, 38 states reported obesity rates above 25 percent, and 12 over 30 percent. Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since 1980.

Except for Michigan, the top 10 most obese states are all in the South, as are the 10 states with the highest rates of hypertension. Mississippi has the highest rate of obesity in the nation, at 34.4 percent, while Colorado has the lowest at 19.8. Fifteen years ago, Mississippi had the country’s highest rate at 19.4 percent – lower than Colorado’s current rate.

These rising rates haven’t occurred in a vacuum. About 23 million Americans live in food deserts, which are typically low-income communities that lack access to full-service supermarkets with nutritious food. Six of the states with the highest poverty rates are also in the top 10 most obese states. Obesity rates are higher for individuals who did not graduate high school and for households that earn less than $15,000 a year.

Other factors include a lack of public transportation, low-nutrition foods served in public schools, less time for physical activity and an increase in portion sizes. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans now eat an average of 300 more calories a day than they did in 1985 and 600 more than in 1970. Initiatives such as establishing taxes on soda, menu labeling at fast-food restaurants and farmers’ markets in low-income neighborhoods have attempted to curtail weight gain.

Rising obesity also means rising rates of hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. In eight states, more than 10 percent of adults now have type two diabetes. In 1995, only four states had diabetes rates of above six percent. Now, 42 states and Washington, D.C. have diabetes rates of more than seven percent.  Obesity-related health care is a costly public health issue, costing upwards of $150 billion a year in the U.S.

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  • Anonymous

    This is a serious problem to the long-term prospects for our country. Not just for our physical viability to compete in the global market, but also due to the financial cost that obesity, via diabetes, hypertension and cancer brings:

  • Sue_campbell

    Stop subsidizing corn!! Corn syrup or corn products are in EVERYTHING. What do they use to fatten meat animals? Corn/corn products. It’s in all processed food because it’s CHEAP why is it cheap because big corporate agribusiness has lobbied to keep the corn subsidies—and increase them. (Don’t kid yourself Agribusiness is not the “proverbial family farm”.) If we stop paying them to poison us, they will grow something else. Maybe even gasp, vegetables! When introduced to fresh fruits and vegetables people love them. But they can afford to buy them because agribusiness (like any business) wants to make money and corn is big money courtesy of the taxpayers who are being killed buy their own generosity. Wake up America! Stop this insanity. 

    We all deserve to access to healthy foods—why should cheap food be unhealthy? Only one reason, greed. The poor have no power—except the power to say NO MORE! 

  • Geography Girl

    America needs more public transportation.  We spend so much time driving to the places we need to go, and sitting on our rears while doing so, that many can’t find time to exercise.  A healthy lifestyle that included some walking everyday to get to and from the train station would go a long way towards improving our quality of life from our waistlines to our environment.

  • whatever

    Walk 3 miles to the train tracks and then walk 3 miles home after a day at work?  I don’t  think so.

  • annadeland

    “Obesity rates are higher for individuals who did not graduate high school”.  This dropping of the preposition “from” (as in “who did not graduation FROM high school”, is what I’d expect from a local outfit, not a nationally respected operation like PBS.  If you don’t hold to certain gramatical standards, who will?  Where are the proof readers?

  • Adastra_2001

    Do you remember the movie Wall-e? Americans are becoming the passengers on the spaceship

  • Ellen Bynum

    The consolidation of the grocery industry into 5 major food suppliers is also part of the reason that food distribution and cost does not coincide with healthy food being available to certain neighborhoods.  Fortunately some communities are recognizing the problem and figuring out ways to bring fresh food to convenience stores, who become the de facto grocery in areas not served by major stores.  Local gardens and classes in food preserving also help counter the consolidation of suppliers, but backyard gardens have yet to compete with imported foods on price, supply and availability.  Also, the major grocers have changed the way they purchase and distribute food, often leaving out small or medium sized farmers and favoring larger producers.  Perhaps a $5/gallon gas price may have them rethink consolidation and re-learn the strength in distributed supply systems.  Food security and land use decisions about saving good soils for food production must be higher on our priority list.  

  • Jlupton

    I believe knowledge is power. I don’t live in the US, but in Canada. Food is expensive here, and the healthy food is even more expensive. However, I have chosen a life where I don’t eat fillers. I spend my money on simple foods such as brown rice, quiona and have learned to make things such as bread and grow greens (in a little barrel) myself. It is way cheaper and better for me. Yes, this does take more time and energy, but I am healthier and have not become a stat. I live far below the 15,000 per year mark, but understand that spending my time and energy making my own food, instead of watching television is an investment in my own health. You can learn how to make and grow cheap food at your finger tips. Take matters into your own hands.