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Majority of adults obese in 39 states…and rising

By Luis Fernandez
Food Pyramid -

America is on a path toward wide-spread obesity and ill-health, according to a report—“F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future”—released today by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors forecast by 2030 the majority of Americans will be obese in 39 states, and obesity rates will exceed 60 percent in 13 states. Furthermore, obesity-related disease and health care costs will increase dramatically.

Today, 68 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese. Obesity rates in adults have more than doubled since 1980 when they were just 15 percent. Now more than 35 percent of adults are obese, and the figures continue to rise. The 2012 report includes analysis of two possible futures for America: In one scenario the obesity rate continues to climb at its current level over the next 20 years; the second describes a picture of an America that lowers its obesity by just 5 percent in each state. The results of the two images are alarmingly different.

“This study shows us two futures for America’s health,” Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president and CEO said in a press release. “At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs. Nothing less is acceptable.”

If obesity rates continue to increase, the report estimates that adults’ rates will reach at least 44 percent in every state, but exceed 50 percent in 39 states and 60 percent in 13 states. The increased obesity rate will accompany 10 times as many new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and arthritis in 2020 as there were in 2010. The number will double again between 2020 and 2030. Furthermore, health costs related to obesity could actually increase by more than 10 percent in 43 states and more than 20 percent in nine states.

The numbers are frightening. By 2030 the obesity epidemic could lead to more than 6 million new cases of type2 diabetes alone, plus an additional 5 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as at least 400,000 cases of cancer.

We don’t have to see such a sick and costly future, however. If America can manage to reduce its average adult body mass index by just 5 percent per state, the amount spent on health care could decrease between 6.5 percent and 7.8 percent in almost every state. No state would have an obesity rate more than 60 percent, and the majority of residents would be obese in only 24 states. More so, however, Americans would avoid thousands of illnesses related to obesity each year, including up to a 3.2-percent decrease of new cases of type 2 diabetes, a possible 2.5-percent decrease of new cases of hypertension, up to a 2.9-percent decrease of new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke and avoiding as many as 277 new cases of cancer.

“We know a lot more about how to prevent obesity than we did 10 years ago,” Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of Trust for America’s Health said in a press release. “This report outlines how policies like increasing physical activity time in schools and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable can help make healthier choices easier. Small changes can add up to a big difference. Policy changes can help make healthier choices easier for Americans in their daily lives.”

Currently, more than 35 percent of adult Americans are described as obese with a body mass index of 30 or higher. Generally, reducing the BMI of an average adult by just 1 percent results in weight loss of about 2.2 pounds. According to the most recent results available from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 states hold an adult obesity rate of more than 30 percent, with Mississippi averaging the highest at 34.9 percent. Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the nation at just 20.7 percent. Of the 30 states with the highest obesity rates, 26 are in the Midwest and South. In fact, all 10 states with the highest hypertension and type 2 diabetes rates are in the South.

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