Kentuckians are getting fatter. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact, according to the latest study of obesity rates in the United States by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Kentucky ranked sixth in the nation in the 2010 study with 31.5 percent of all adults being obese, up from 29 percent from a similar study conducted in 2009.
The only category the state improved from the 2009 study was in childhood obesity, where the number dropped from 37.1 percent in 2009 to 21 percent this year.
But Kentucky was hardly alone. The report showed that waistlines are getting bigger every year, in evey state.
Mississippi ranked as the fattest state, according to the report, with Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana close behind.
Five years ago, Mississippi was the only state that topped 30 percent obesity, but the study showed that a dozen states had rates higher than 30 percent in 2010, with 10 of the 11 highest being in the south.
Colorado had the nation’s lowest obesity rate in 2010 at 19.8 percent, but it too has seen a continued increase in the number of people considered obese. Fifteen years ago, that same 19.8 percent rate would have made Colorado the nation’s fattest state according to statistics.
Since 1995, when data was available for every state, obesity rates have doubled in seven states and increased by at least 90 percent in 10 others. The studies showed that the rates have grown fastest in Oklahoma, Alabama and Tennessee, with the slowest growth in Washington D.C., Colorado and Connecticut.
Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health said obesity directly impacts the country’s health costs.
“Today, the state with the lowest obesity rate would have been the highest in 1995,” said Levi. “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.”
Obesity has long been associated with other severe health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and the new report shows drastic increases across the country in the rates of both over the last 20 years.
In 1995, only four states had diabetes rates above 6 percent. Since then, diabetes rates have doubled in eight states and 43 have diabetes rates over 7 percent, including Kentucky, with a diabetes rate of 10.5, which is up from a 9.9 percent rate in 2009.
The study showed that 20 years ago, 37 states had hypertension rates over 20 percent. Now every state is over 20 percent. Kentucky, with a 31.6 percent rate, is one of nine states with rates over 30 percent.
As in previous studies, this one showed that racial and ethnic minority adults continue to have the highest overall obesity rates.
Only four states, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virgina had adult obesity rates for Whites of more than 32.1 percent, while adult obesity rates for Blacks was over 40 percent in 15 states, and 30 percent in 42 states and Washington D.C.
Rates of adult obesity for Latinos was over 35 percent in four states and at least 30 percent in 23 states.
The report also showed that adults with less education or who make less money were more likely to be obese. About a third of the adults who did not graduate from high school are obese, while a fifth of those who graduate from college are considered obese.
Likewise, the study showed that more than 33 percent of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year were obese, compared to 24.6 percent of those who earn at leas $50,000 per year.
All the news in the study was not bad though. Statistics showed that sixteen states reported increases in their obesity rates in 2010 compared to the 28 states that reported increases last year.
Levi said that was encouraging and credited the gradual slowing to greater public awareness of health issues and recent government attempts to give schools and shoppers better access to healthier foods, such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Lets Move” campaign, which pushes for better school lunches, more access to fruits and vegetables and more physical activity. Congress also last year passed a new law requiring school lunches to be healthier.
Kentucky has also begun addressing the obesity problem. Legislators recently set nutritional standards for school lunches, breakfasts and snacks that are even stricter than current United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements. Five years ago, only four states had such strict legislation.
Kentucky nutritional standards were also made more stringent for competitive foods sold in schools on a la carte lines, in vending machines, in school stores or through school bake sales. Five years ago, only six states had similar standards.
For the study, obesity was defined as a body mass index of 30 or more. The body mass index is a measurement based on a calculation using a person’s weight and height. A person who is 5 feet 5 inches and weighs 150 pounds would have a body mass index of 25, for example, but if that person weighed 180 pounds the BMI would be 30.
Although body mass index isn’t always the best indicator for someone with a lot of muscle, such as an athlete, it is considered the best way to measure the general population. The authors of the study say it allowed them to measure large numbers of people because those surveyed can easily provide their height and weight.
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