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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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