The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released obesity statistics for 49 states and two territories, citing Kansas among a dozen states at the top of the list.
That, however, is not where a state wants to be.
The annual report lists Kansas among 12 states that have topped 35% in the prevalence of obesity in its population. The report continues an upward trend in obesity in the state; Kansas was just below the 35% threshold one year ago.
“It wasn’t that long ago (2013) that the first two states appeared on CDC’s maps with a dark brown color, indicating they were above 35% obesity,” said Sandy Procter, K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist. “And now, there are 12 states – including Kansas – that have that very unfortunate ‘award.’”
The CDC gathers data on obesity through state-based, telephone interviews known as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, or BRFSS.
Among many statistics cited by the CDC:
- All states and territories had more than 20% of adults with obesity. Only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence under 25%.
- The Midwest (33.9%) and South (33.3%) have the highest prevalence of obesity.
- From 1999-2000 through 2017-2018, the prevalence of obesity in the United States increased from 30.5% to 42.4%, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.
The health risks due to obesity are clear, including an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers – which the CDC refers to as the leading causes of preventable, premature death among Americans.
The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 dollars (the most recent for which this data is available), and the medical costs for people who are obese is $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
It all begs the question: What can we do?
“The quick first answer is if it were easy, we would have done a better job of it already,” Procter said. “It is a big, multi-faceted undertaking that is going to involve individuals, but it also takes local communities and systems-thinking. It requires focus on making an environment that makes the healthy choice the easy choice.”
Procter notes that flipping the trend requires not just education on healthy food choices and eating smaller portions, but also addressing such issues as food insecurity and safe places for physical activity.
“The research that connects overweight and obesity with food insecurity is very compelling,” she said. “The factors that increase food insecurity – whether it’s low pay or the inability to get to food sources – are directly related to weight.
“And one of the key factors in that is stress. We know situations and conditions that cause our bodies stress – and what a stressful year this has been for everybody – make us less likely to healthfully deal with weight.”
Procter recently traveled to Colorado where she saw widespread community-based efforts to promote and support physical activity, including bike lanes on roadways or wide pathways for biking and running.
“There are people in urban planning and community health that take this seriously,” she said. “But it comes down to the individual choosing to get off the couch and move. Additionally, a lot of people have been making the effort during the pandemic and close-down times to start cooking a bit more at home and adopting healthier eating habits.”
Procter notes a few ideas for individuals to help themselves:
- Cut portion sizes in half. Save part of your meal for leftovers.
- Eat more slowly. It takes 20 minutes for the body to signal the brain that it is full.
- Order a half-meal or child’s portion when eating in or taking out. Or split an entrée with a friend or dining companion.
- Avoid the temptation for second helpings.
- Get up and go for a walk, then eat more if you still feel hungry (chances are, you won’t).
“Some of the things that we need to do to re-train our habits can really be life-saving,” Procter said.
More information on family nutrition and health is available online from K-State Research and Extension.