With the increase in adult obesity rates in 31 states during the past year, an estimated two-thirds of Americans have been left vulnerable to fatal diseases such as diabetes, stroke and cancer.
All this has happened in spite of federal and state government efforts to curb the overweight epidemic, according to a new report from the Trust for America's Health.
The report, titled F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing America, 2006, was released on Tuesday. This is the third in a series of annual reports by the trust detailing state obesity rates as well as the effectiveness of government policies to fight the problem.
Official figures show that the adult obesity rate rose from 15 percent in 1980 to 32 percent in 2004. This in addition to the number of overweight Americans who are not obese revises the figure to 64 percent. And the childhood obesity rate more than tripled between 1980 and 2004, from 5 percent to 17 percent.
Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, said "The most important news in this report is that the obesity epidemic in America is getting worse. The percentage of obese adults exceeds 25 percent in 13 states. That should sound some serious alarm bells."
The report pointed to a combination of poor nutrition and lack of physical activity as being responsible for the epidemic. Obese further increases the risk for serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.
Cathy Nonas, director of the obesity and diabetes programs at North General Hospital in New York City and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association said,"What's particularly distressing is that we think we understand why this is happening. It's happening because the environment is built to promote obesity, and it is so pervasive that in order to make changes, we really need to change everything."
Reports show that Mississippi is the "largest" state, with 29.5 percent of its adult population considered obese. Alabama and West Virginia are second and third with 28.7 percent and 28.6 percent of the adult population, respectively, being considered obese. Mississippi also has the highest combined level of obese plus overweight adults at 67.3 percent.
Nine of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates as well as the highest rates of diabetes and hypertension were found to be in the South.
Colorado proved itself to be the "thinnest" state, with an adult obesity rate of only 16.9 percent. Other "thin" states are in the West and Northeast, including Hawaii (18.2 percent), Massachusetts (18.6 percent), Rhode Island (19.5 percent) and Montana (19.9 percent).
According to the report every single state in the union failed to make enough progress to meet the national goal of reducing adult obesity levels to 15 percent or less by the year 2010.
Levi said, "The 2004 and 2005 documents reported that there was no strategic policy to address obesity. The 2006 report shows little improvement. While there are innovative promising pilot programs under way in some parts of the country, for the most part, federal and state policies are limited in scope, designed for the short term and woefully underfunded."
He added, "It's a shared responsibility involving individual and society."
Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, vice president for academic affairs at Emory University's Woodruff Health Science Center, and chairman of the Institute of Medicine Committee on Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity said, "We believe that all stakeholders must be involved if changes are to take place."
Some of the other findings of the report include,
• The percentage of adults who are obese or overweight exceeds 60 percent in 28 states.
• West Virginia has the highest rate of type 2 diabetes among adults (10.4 percent) while Alaska has the lowest rate (4.5 percent).
• Mississippi has the highest rate of adult hypertension (32.7 percent) and Utah the lowest (19.8 percent).
• Seven states now have body mass index screening requirements in schools.
• All states except South Dakota have school physical education requirements, while 44 states plus Washington, D.C., have school health education requirements. There is little enforcement capability in either of these cases, however.
• Seventeen states plus Washington, D.C., have passed taxes on junk food or sodas.
Nonas said, "I don't think they're going far enough. The perfect example of this is the physical-education and health-education requirements, where states have very little ability to enforce it. It's good that people are doing this, but it's not enough."
The report also proposed a 20-step action plan to address the obesity crisis. Recommendations include improved nutritional content on foods and beverages served and sold in schools; improved nutritional labeling on foods; better physical fitness curricula in schools, community-driven efforts to increase access to healthy foods in low-income areas; an improved physical environment with more and better sidewalks, parks and bike paths;; and employer-sponsored programs to increase physical activity and provide better insurance coverage for preventive services.