Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The hefty toll of the obesity epidemic

Obesity rates are going up, up, up.

Today, Colorado has the nation’s lowest rate of adult obesity, at 18.6 percent, followed by Washington DC at 19.7 percent. California ranks 17, tied with Alaska, with an estimated 24.8 percent of adults in the obese category. The nation’s highest rates of obesity are in the southeast, with Louisiana (33%) and Mississippi (34%) topping the charts, according to data released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Compare this with data from 1990, and the picture becomes quite alarming. In 1990 ten states had obesity rates below 10 percent. Today none do. In 1990 no states had obesity rates above 15 percent. Today none have rates below 15 percent.

According to the CDC, obesity is “defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater.BMI is calculated from a person's weight and height and provides a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.”

These obesity-related diseases carry a hefty price tag. Estimates in 2000 put obesity-related health care costs in California at $7.7 billion dollars, and the national cost at $75 billion. According to more recent projections from United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention, if current trends continue costs may reach as high $318 billion in the next eight years. Even if rates stay steady at their current high levels the report finds that “the U.S. could save an estimated $820 per adult in health care costs by 2018 ? a savings of almost $200 billion dollars.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, obesity is strongly correlated with physical activity. States where a high proportion of commuters walk, run, or bike to work have some of the nation’s lowest obesity rates. For example, nationwide about 3.4 percent of commuters walk or bike as their primary mode of commute to work. In Colorado, with the nation’s lowest obesity rate, the walk-or-bike rate is 4.2 percent - 25 percent higher than the national average. In Washington DC with the nation’s second lowest obesity rate, the walk-or-bike rate is 13.7 percent. Conversely, commuters in the three states with the highest levels of obesity (Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee) are only about half as likely to walk or bike to work as the national average.

For original publication, please see: http://www.examiner.com/x-43439-San-Diego-Economy-Examiner~y2010m8d10-The-hefty-toll-of-the-obesity-epidemic