Adult obesity rates remained unchanged throughout the country last year, except in one state – Arkansas – ending three decades of rising weight gain.
That’s the good news out of the latest annual report on America’s obesity epidemic from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“This is certainly one of the most hopeful reports we’ve had,” said Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of the trust, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health research group.
But “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2013,” points out that the average adult continues to hit the scale more than 24 pounds heavier now than in 1960.
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Indeed, what the report calls a “frightening prospect and an unacceptable outcome” is that young people today may be the first generation to live sicker and die earlier than its parents did.
Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas topped the list of the 10 heaviest states, while Massachusetts, the District of Columbia and Colorado boasted the lowest obesity rates, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more, while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is classified as overweight, according to the CDC.
More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, with dramatically increased risks of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of other health problems, the report said.
The study follows another this week, published in the American Journal of Public Health, that showed 18.2 percent of the premature deaths in the U.S. are associated with excessive body mass.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, said that while the new obesity study provided hope, “we know how fragile a disease like this can be. We should look at this flattening and see that we have to do more. There is a strong tendency to think that we have solved these problems and then remove resources much too early.”
The study found that the adult obesity rate was above 30 percent in 13 states, at least 25 percent in 41 states and above 20 percent everywhere.
In 1980, the rate wasn’t above 15 percent anywhere; in 1991, not above 20 percent; in 2000, not above 25 percent; and in 2007, only one state – Mississippi – topped 30 percent.
Levi said the “dark cloud on the horizon” was the growing problem of the baby boomer generation, which more and more was developing ailments related to obesity.
Whatever progress is occurring remains uneven. The report said obesity rates continued to be the highest in lower-income communities, communities of color and in the South, where high rates of hypertension and Type 2 diabetes are prevalent.
Nonetheless, public awareness campaigns that focus attention on obesity might be having an impact. The “F as in Fat” rankings follow an encouraging CDC report last week that showed improved obesity rates among low-income preschoolers in 19 states and increases in just three.
“There isn’t a magic bullet,” Levi said. “What I think we’re seeing is a culture change driven by investment in programs that promote nutrition and physical activity, like the Let’s Move campaign. People are becoming far more aware, far more mobilized and far more conscious.”