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West Virginia ranked most obese in nation

Health official says state in a ‘public health crisis’

By MARCUS CONSTANTINO

Daily Mail Staff

West Virginia is tied with Mississippi for the highest obesity rate in the nation, a new report on obesity in America indicates.

According to “The State of Obesity” report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 35.1 percent of all adults in both states were obese in 2013.

West Virginia’s obesity rate has steadily increased over the past few years. West Virginia’s adult obesity rate was 32.4 percent, or the third-highest in the nation, in 2011. The adult obesity rate in West Virginia in 2004 was 27.6 percent, which was the third-highest mark in the country at that time. West Virginia’s adult obesity rate has been among the four worst in the country since 1990, according to data shown in the report from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System dataset.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pins the national adult obesity rate at 34.9 percent, or 78.6 million people. It estimates the annual cost of obesity in America is $147 billion.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston Health Department executive director, said the data are troubling, but nothing new. He said the rates of obesity among baby boomers (38.7 percent) and children (34 percent, according to the Kids Count data center) are especially alarming, though childhood obesity rates are stabilizing.

“We need to look at things in a more comprehensive manner in order to address this as a public health crisis, not only a crisis of huge proportions, but a crisis that needs immediate attention,” Gupta said.

The report points out correlations between minorities and increased obesity rates, as well as a correlation between income and increased obesity. It finds more than 33 percent of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, compared to a 25.4 percent obesity rate for those who earn at least $50,000 per year. Nationwide, 11 states have obesity rates above 40 percent among their black populations, and 23 states have obesity rates above 35 percent for latino populations.

In West Virginia, the obesity rates for blacks and latinos are 36.5 percent and 32.1 percent, respectively, according to the report.

Gupta said obesity doesn’t plague minorities in West Virginia as much as it does minorities in other states because the root of the issue in West Virginia is socioeconomics, not race.

“I think we need to understand that, and we need to understand that the other side of this is that obesity has reached a level of public health crisis in West Virginia,” Gupta said. “Across all types of people from all origins, I think we’re peaking. Every subgroup of the population across West Virginia is peaking with obesity rates.”

Dr. Letitia Tierney, Commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health and State Health Officer, said while West Virginia’s obesity rates are high, the state has started many initiatives to combat obesity.

“We take obesity as a serious health issue and are working to improve the lifestyles of West Virginians,” Tierney said. “Chronic diseases are the most common and the most costly of all health problems — and they are also the most preventable. Prevention and management of chronic disease requires that we all become advocates for health.”

Tierney provided a list of 16 programs the Bureau of Public Health is involved in that are fighting obesity though education, outreach and partnerships. Through coordinated school health initiatives with the Department of Education, Tierney said less than 15% of West Virginia schools permit students to purchase soda on campus and less than 20% of West Virginia schools allow students to purchase sports drinks on campus.

Though Gupta said much progress has been made to push back against the obesity epidemic in West Virginia, much more needs to be done to ensure a more healthy future. Gupta proposed West Virginia could pass a “physical activity” law that would require students to have a certain amount of physical activity every week. He also proposed better nutritional education in schools.

Gupta said West Virginia doesn’t need to “throw money at the problem”, but instead needs to make “smart policies,” and conduct thoughtful planning and study the problem further. The State Of Obesity report predicts if current trends continue, West Virginia’s obesity rate will be above 60 percent by 2030.

“What we need to figure out is how to develop a comprehensive, best-practice approach to addressing obesity, otherwise we could be fighting this for 10, 20, 50 years and that’s not what we want to do,” Gupta said. “Not only is it important from the workforce standpoint and from the chronic disease standpoint, but ultimately it’s draining resources, human capital, out of the system.

It’s urgent, but whereas money and resources are an important part, it’s not the only part.”

The State of Obesity report is supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Contact writer Marcus Constantino at 304-348-1796 or marcus.c@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/amtino.


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