Arkansas joins Mississippi and West Virginia this year in the group of states with adult obesity rates that exceed 35 percent, according to the Prevalence of Obesity maps released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All fifty states, Puerto Rico and Guam have obesity rates in excess of 20 percent. Obesity is defined as having as body mass index of 30 or greater. The CDC created the maps using data collected in 2014 through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Americans spend six billion dollars annually trying to lose weight, yet obesity rates in Nebraska, Montana and Utah increased from last year by 5 to 10 percent. All other states and territories show no thinning of waistlines. The maps for minority groups become heavier. The obesity rates of non-Hispanic blacks in 33 states exceed 35 percent; nine states have Hispanic population obesity rates at this level.
The health consequences of obesity are numerous, negatively affecting quality of life and increasing national health care costs. The CDC estimates that 10 percent of the national healthcare budget is spent on obesity-related health problems. Obesity contributes to incidents of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease, hypertension, stroke and some cancers. Many overweight individuals suffer sleep apnea and osteoarthritis, a breakdown of bone and cartilage within a joint. According to the CDC, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety can be exacerbated by obesity.
“People didn’t decide to become overweight,” says Dr. William H. Dietz, Director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the CDC. “Their weight gain is a consequence of complicated changes in the environment, where food is more readily available and opportunities for physical activity are lacking.” The way Americans eat has changed over the past half-century. Americans are eating out more, consuming larger portions and more processed foods. People living in poor urban and rural communities often do not have access to affordable healthy foods.
Technology, and the way communities are built, also contributes to the obesity epidemic. People often do not live within walking distance to school or work and must drive or take public transportation. Screen time, sitting in front of a television or computer, has replaced outdoor activities that involve exercise. The confluence of these factors makes solving the problem of obesity complex.
Dr. Moore suggests individuals eat more fruits and vegetables, limit foods high in fat and sugar and replace sugary beverages with water. Adults and children should get the recommended amount of physical activity, at least a half-hour each day. Parents should limit the time children are allowed to watch TV. Communities can attack the problem of “food deserts” by participating in farmers market programs. Town and city planners should encourage mixed-used development that builds homes with easy access to parks, schools, businesses and grocery stores.