August 4, 2010

Obesity rates continue to rise, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In just two years, the rate climbed from 25.6 percent American classified as obese to 26.7 percent in 2009.

Mississippi leads the way with a 34.4 percent obese adults. Other states are catching up. Ten years ago, 28 states had an obesity rate below 20 percent — now only Colorado has below 20, at 18 percent.

The survey found more women than men were obese, 35.5 percent versus 32.2 percent. Anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 qualifies as obese, 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and below 24.9 is a healthy weight. The numbers are found by dividing weight by height. The rates may be even higher since respondents gave their own height and weight and may have underestimated.

Rates are much lower for those with college degrees, however, suggesting increased education, awareness and access (financial and geographic) to healthier food and habits play a critical role in preventing obesity. Policy efforts for restaurants to post calorie content of menu items, for taxes on soda and candy, for removal of snack foods from school cafeterias, and increased distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables in low-income areas may do much to restrict or inform people’s choices, but shifts in education strategy and increased exercise opportunities must be funded and put into place as well.

Prevention will not only save lives by cutting diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related illnesses, but cut down on increased medical costs that totaled about $147 billion in 2006.