New Report Shows Americans Getting Fatter; Serious Health & Policy Concerns

A new report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011, from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), shows that 68% of Americans are either overweight or obese, and adult obesity rates have increased in 16 U.S. states in the past year and did not decline in any state. In 12 states, more than 30% of the population is now obese, while four years ago only one state reported more than 30% of its population obese.

The report terms America’s weight problem an “obesity epidemic.” In fact, this 2011 report is the eighth annual edition of the F as in Fat report, which, TFAH and RWJF explain, “tracks trends in obesity rates and policies aimed at addressing the epidemic.”

The full 2011 report, along with a map showing the obesity rates by state and additional information, is available on the website of the Trust for America’s Health.

The Statistics by State, Demographics, Educational Level & Economic Status

The report found that “Over the past 15 years, seven states have doubled their rate of obesity. Another 10 states nearly doubled their obesity rate, with increases of at least 90 percent. And 22 more states saw obesity rates increase by at least 80 percent.”

The Ten Most Obese States. According to the report, the highest obesity rates are found in the South. The ten states reporting the highest percentages of their populations as obese are:

  1. Mississippi – 34.4%
  2. Alabama – 32.3%
  3. West Virginia – 32.2%
  4. Tennessee – 31.9%
  5. Louisiana – 31.6%
  6. Kentucky – 31.5%
  7. Oklahoma – 31.4%
  8. South Carolina – 30.9%
  9. Arkansas – 30.6%
  10. Michigan – 30.5%

The Ten Least Obese States. The ten states with the lowest percentages of their population obese are:

  1. Colorado – 19.8%
  2. D.C. – 21.7%
  3. Connecticut – 21.8%
  4. Massachusetts – 22.3%
  5. Hawaii – 23.1%
  6. Utah – 23.4%
  7. Vermont – 23.5%
  8. Montana – 23.8%
  9. New Jersey – 24.1%
  10. Rhode Island – 24.3%

The statistics showed that obesity increased for men in nine states, and for women in ten states, and decreased for
women in one state (Nevada).

The report also found that high obesity rates correlate with lack of education and lower income. According to the report,

  • “Those who did not graduate high school have the highest rates of obesity (32.8 percent). Those who graduated high school but did not go on to college or a technical school have the second highest obesity rate (30.4 percent), and those who went to college/technical school had an obesity rate of 29.6 percent. Those who graduate from college/technical school had the lowest obesity rate (21.5 percent);” and
  • “Households that make less than $15,000 have a 33.8 percent obesity rate. They are followed closely by households that make between $15,000 and $25,000 (31.8 percent), $25,000 and $35,000 (29.7 percent) and $35,000 and $50,000 (29.5 percent). However, households that have an income above $50,000 have a 24.6 percent obesity rate.”

And, the report found, “The number of adults who report they do not engaged in any physical activity rose in 14 states in the past year. Two states (California and Texas) saw a decline in adult physical inactivity levels.”

Obesity and Overweight Growing Over 20 Years

This year, the researchers looked back 20 years, and found that America’s growing trend toward obesity and overweight appears even more stark over this longer period. Twenty years ago, there was no state in which more than 15% of its population was obese, compared with today’s rates stated above.

Today, alarming statistics show that when those who are overweight are counted together with those who are obese, 44 states show more than 60% of their residents as being either overweight or obese, and the state with the lowest combined rate reports 54.8% of its people as being overweight or obese. Twenty years ago, no state had more than 49% of its population either overweight or obese. And, ten years ago, only two states had a combined rate above 60%.

As used in the report the term “obese” as applied to adults means having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 (which translates to about 30lbs overweight for a person 5’4” tall). Adults with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a common measure expressing the relationship (or ratio) of weight-to-height. For more information on how to calculate BMI, see Calculate Your Body Mass Index (BMI).

“Today, the state with the lowest obesity rate would have had the highest rate in 1995,” said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of TFAH. “There was a clear tipping point in our national weight gain over the last twenty years, and we can’t afford to ignore the impact obesity has on our health and corresponding health care spending.”

The Consequences of Obesity and Overweight

According to a release by TFAH and RWJF, “Obesity has long been associated with other severe health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure. New data in the report show how rates of both also have risen dramatically over the last two decades.”

The report states that over the past 15 years, diabetes rates have doubled in ten states. In 1995, only four states had diabetes rates above 6 percent. Today, 43 states have diabetes rates over 7 percent, and 32 states report rates above 8 percent.

Twenty years ago, according to the report, 37 states had hypertension (high blood pressure) rates over 20 percent. Now, every state reports more than 20 percent of its population with high blood pressure, and nine states report that over 30 percent of their populations have high blood pressure.

In a foreword to the report, former Surgeon General David Satcher states that 190 million Americans are overweight or obese, and he outlines the most important concerns that this “epidemic” raises. These include serious health problems associated with overweight and obesity that are increasing, including Type 2 diabetes, cancer and many others. In addition, he points to rising health-care costs, and the inequities that fall on poor communities that have little access to healthy food.

As noted, the report shows that obesity tends to be most prevalent among lower-income and minority populations.

Both Dr. Satcher and Jeffrey Levi, executive director for Trust for America’s Health, told Time that America’s obesity epidemic should not be viewed simply as personal failings by those who are overweight or obese. “We need a combination of opportunities that will make healthy choices easier, on the food front and the activity front,” Jeffrey Levi said. “There’s always going to be an element of personal responsibility, but even when people are motivated, if you live in a neighborhood where the only food that’s available is high-density fast food, it’s going to be very hard to carry through on that personal commitment,” he said.

He applauded First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Campaign as a constructive policy effort, and a good example of the kinds of programs that are needed. “You need to be addressing those environmental and those policy factors, but at the same time, you need to be motivating the country,” he said.

Recommendations for Policy Makers

“The information in this report should spur us all – individuals and policymakers alike – to redouble our efforts to reverse this debilitating and costly epidemic,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A, President and CEO of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, according to a release by the Foundation. “Changing policies is an important way to provide children and families with vital resources and opportunities to make healthier choices easier in their day-to-day lives.”

The 2011 F as in Fat report includes specific recommendations for policy makers from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) on how the government and the food and beverage industry should act to help reverse the obesity epidemic. The recommendations for policy makers include:

  1. “Protect the Prevention and Public Health Fund: TFAH and RWJF recommend that the fund not be cut, that a significant portion be used for obesity prevention, and that it not be used to offset or justify cuts to other Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) programs.
  2. Implementing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act: TFAH and RWJF recommend that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issue a final rule as swiftly as possible regarding school meal regulations and issue strong standards for so-called “competitive” food and beverages – those sold outside of school meal programs, through à la carte lines, vending machines and school stores.
  3. Implementing the National Physical Activity Plan: TFAH and RWJF recommend full implementation of the policies, programs, and initiatives outlined in the National Physical Activity Plan. This includes a grassroots advocacy effort; a public education program; a national resource center; a policy development and research center; and dissemination of best practices.
  4. Restoring Cuts to Vital Programs: TFAH and RWJF recommend that the $833 million in cuts made in the fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution be restored and that programs to improve nutrition in child care settings and nutrition assistance programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children be fully funded and carried out. If fully funded these programs could have a major impact on reducing obesity.”

Additionally, TFAH and RWJF recommend that the food and beverage industry “should adopt strong, consistent standards for food marketing similar to those proposed in April 2011 by the Interagency Working Group, composed of representatives from four federal agencies – the Federal Trade Commission, CDC, Food and Drug Administration and the USDA – and work to implement the other recommendations set forth in the 2005 Institute of Medicine report on food marketing to children and youth.”

“Creating healthy environments is key to reversing the obesity epidemic, particularly for children,” said Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey, the President and CEO of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. “When children have safe places to walk, bike and play in their communities, they’re more likely to be active and less likely to be obese. It’s the same with healthy food: when communities have access to healthy affordable foods, families eat better.”

More Information

The full 2011 report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011, along with a map with state by state statistics and additional information, is available on the website of the Trust for America’s Health.

For information on healthy diet and exercise to achieve and maintain healthy weight, see HelpingYouCare™’s Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors and Caregivers section, including:

Diet & Nutrition: Physical Wellness; and

Exercise: Physical Wellness.


Copyright © 2011 Care-Help LLC


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