August 28, 2007 / 1:56 AM / 12 years ago

Americans fatter than ever: study

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans are fatter than ever, with obesity rates up in most states and fewer people exercising, according to a study released on Monday.

A passenger waits for a delayed flight at Heathrow airport's terminal four in London August 12, 2006. Americans are fatter than ever, with obesity rates up in most states and fewer people exercising, according to a study released on Monday. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Only a concerted effort by state and federal government, schools and individuals will make a dent in the growing epidemic, the Trust for Americas Health reported.

Obesity rates ranged from more than 17 percent in Colorado to more than 30 percent in Mississippi.

“No state is doing well. We have seen a dramatic increase throughout the country,” Jeff Levi, executive director of the nonprofit Trust, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

“Poor nutrition and physical inactivity are robbing America of our health and productivity.”

Adult obesity rates rose in 31 states last year and obesity rates did not fall in any states, the report said.

“Rates of adult obesity now exceed 25 percent in 19 states, an increase from 14 states last year and 9 in 2005. In 1991, none of the states exceeded 20 percent,” the Trust said in a statement.

The group advocates a concerted effort to fight obesity in the United States, where more than 60 percent of adults are either obese or overweight.

This would include changes in laws, including mandates on school lunches, requiring insurers to pay for weight loss programs and restoring physical education programs to schools.

Children are especially at risk, the group said.

“The rate of childhood obesity more than tripled from 1980 to 2004. Approximately 25 million children are now either obese or overweight,” the report said.

FUTURE HEALTH IMPACTS

Obesity and overweight are defined using body mass index, a measure of height versus weight that is accepted by health experts. A body mass index of 25 or above is considered overweight, while 30 or above constitutes obesity, with a greater risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

“Particularly when looking at kids, there are health impacts now. There are going to be even greater health impacts later,” Levi said. “If we aren’t addressing the childhood obesity problem now, there is not going to be affordable health care reform.”

There is little dispute over what is causing the epidemic.

“It seems that the cheapest foods are those that are the worst for you,” Dr. James Marks, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helped pay for the report.

“People are eating more and being less active. About a quarter of people eat fast food every day. The amount of calories has gone up. The quality of lunches in schools has gone down.”

Fewer children walk to school or play outside after school and people find it more difficult to exercise, Levi and Marks noted.

According to the report, the three states with the most obese residents are:

* Mississippi - 30 percent obese

* West Virginia - 29.8 percent

* Alabama - 29.4 percent

The leanest states are:

* Colorado - 17.6 percent obese

* Massachusetts - 19.8 percent obese

* Vermont - 20 percent obese.

The group used data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which interviews tens of thousands of people every year in various health surveys.

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