Like the high rate of smoking among Kentucky adults, there is another negative health statistic that only individuals can erase and that is our rate of obesity. While obesity is not a new problem in Kentucky, adults in this and surrounding states are continuing to gain weight while more adults and children in other parts of the country are doing a better job of controlling their weight.
A national telephone survey found 13 states with very high rates of obesity last year. Overall, the proportion of U.S. adults deemed obese has been about the same for years now.
“A plateau is better than rising numbers. But it’s discouraging because we’re plateauing at a very high number,” said Kelly Brownell, a Duke University public policy expert who specializes in obesity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does the survey each year, and recently released 2012 results. At least 30 percent of adults were obese in 13 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. In 2011, a dozen states reached that threshold.
Louisiana and Mississippi led the list. In both, nearly 35 percent of adults were obese. Colorado was lowest, with less than 21 percent obese.
It’s not surprising states in the South and Midwest top the charts year after year, experts say. Many states in those regions have higher poverty rates.
“When you have a limited income, you have to buy foods that are cheap. And foods that are cheap tend to have a lot of sugar and salt and fat,” said Dr. George Bray, an obesity expert at Louisiana State University.
Bray is right. Foods like fresh fruits and vegetables may be good for our health, but they are more expensive to buy and often take longer to prepare. Beans, potatoes, sweetened cereals and fast food burgers and fries are quicker and less expensive food choices.
The CDC defines someone as obese if their weight-to-height ratio — called a “body mass index” — hits 30 or higher. A 5-foot-9 person would be considered obese at 203 pounds or more. Many people would not consider a 5-foot-9 man weighing a little more than 200 pounds as “obese” but just a few pounds overweight. Nothing to worry about, really. Because of that, many people who do not consider themselves obese fit the CDC’s definition of obesity. Other factors besides height also play a role in determining an individual’s proper weight.
But whether we agree with the CDC’s definition of obesity or not is really beside the point. All one has to do is look around to realize that there are too many fat people in our midst, and because of that we are more likely to develop diabetes and high blood pressure and have heart problems than we would if we were thinner.
As an excellent column by Ashland pediatrician A.K. Khanna, published on page C8 of Sunday’s Independent, pointed out, while a recent CDC report found that childhood obesity had declined slightly in America, that decline was not experienced here in northeast Kentucky. We continue to have too many overweight children.
We know what we need to do. We need to exercise more and eat smarter, but we know from personal experience that that is easier said than done.
When you get right down to it, there is not much the government can do to combat obesity, but there is a lot we as parents and as individuals can do. The cost of obesity is high in this state. The best way we can reduce that cost is to start working on a body that is thinner and in better shape.
Obesity is a fixable problem. All it takes is willpower and perseverance — and the financial means to buy healthier foods.