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Obesity rates remain high, but may be leveling off

Sunday August 18, 2013
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After three decades of increases, adult obesity rates remained level during the past year in every state except Arkansas, according to a report by Trust for Americaís Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Obesity rates are above 20% in all states, above 25% in 41 states and above 30% in 13 states, according to the report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens Americaís Future 2013." In 2007, by comparison, only Mississippi was above 30%, and as recently as 2000 no state was above 25%.

If nothing else, the rate of increase may be slowing. In 2005, every state but one experienced an increase in obesity rates; in 2008, rates increased in 37 states; in 2010, rates increased in 28 states; and in 2011, rates increased in only 16 states.

"While stable rates of adult obesity may signal prevention efforts are starting to yield some results, the rates remain extremely high," Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, said in a news release. "Even if the nation holds steady at the current rates, Baby Boomers — who are aging into obesity-related illnesses — and the rapidly rising numbers of extremely obese Americans are already translating into a cost crisis for the healthcare system and Medicare.

"In order to decrease obesity and related costs, we must ensure that policies at every level support healthy choices, and we must focus investments on prevention."

Key findings

Rates vary by region: Of the states with the 20 highest adult obesity rates, only Pennsylvania is not in the South or Midwest. For the first time in eight years, Mississippi no longer has the highest rate — Louisiana is at 34.7%, followed by Mississippi at 34.6%. Colorado had the lowest rate, 20.5%.

Rates vary by age: Obesity rates for Baby Boomers (ages 45 to 64) have reached 40% in Alabama and Louisiana, and are 30% or higher in 41 states. By comparison, obesity rates for seniors (65 and older) exceed 30% only in Louisiana. Obesity rates for young adults (18 to 25) are below 28% in every state.

Rates by gender are consistent. Ten years ago, there was a 6-percentage point difference between rates for men and women (men: 27.5%, women: 33.4%), and now rates are virtually identical (men: 35.8%, women 35.5%). Menís obesity rates have been climbing faster than womenís during the past decade.

Rates of "extreme" obesity have grown dramatically. Rates of adult Americans with a body mass index of 40 or higher have grown in the past 30 years from 1.4% to 6.3%, an increase of 350%. Among children and teens (ages 2 to 19), more than 5.1% of males and 4.7% of females are extremely obese.

In addition to the latest data showing a stable rate for adult obesity, a new report released by the CDC earlier this month showed 18 states and one U.S. territory experienced a decline in obesity rates among preschool children from low-income families. The report provides state-specific trends in obesity rates among children ages 2 to 4 who are enrolled in federal health and nutrition programs.

Strategies

"F as in Fat" features a series examining high-impact policies to prevent and reduce obesity in the U.S. The series highlights significant policy accomplishments over the past decade, including: historic changes to nutrition standards for school foods; improved health screenings for children; changes to improve nutrition and health counseling in the Women, Infants and Children federal nutrition program; increased understanding about how the built environment affects peopleís ability to eat healthy foods and be physically active; the growth of a "complete streets" movement; the launches of a Prevention and Public Health Fund and National Prevention Strategy; and a growth in community-based programs for obesity and related illnesses.

The report includes a growing set of strategies that have improved health — but stresses that they are not yet implemented or funded at a level to reduce obesity trends significantly. Some key recommendations from the report regarding strategies that should be taken to scale include:

• All food in schools must be healthy;

• Kids and adults should have access to more opportunities to be physically active on a regular basis;

• Restaurants should post calorie information on menus;

• Food and beverage companies should market only their healthiest products to children;

• The country should invest more in preventing disease to save money on treating it;

• Americaís transportation plans should encourage walking and biking; and

• Everyone should be able to purchase healthy, affordable foods close to home.

TFAH and RWJF collaborated on the report, which was supported by a grant from RWJF.

Read a PDF of the report: www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/reports/2013/rwjf407528.


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