More than 72 million Americans are now obese, according to new government data that shows a significant and potentially deadly health problem that has continued to worsen in the recent years in every state including Maryland.
Just over 26 percent of Marylanders were obese in 2009. The percentage was less than 25 percent in 2005 and less than 20 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC said the national average was almost 27 percent, up just over 1 percent in two years, or 2.4 million people, according to the latest data, which is self reported and likely to be a underestimate. More startling, the CDC officials said, was that the number of states with an obesity prevalence of 30 percent of more tripled in two years to nine states. No state had such a high number of obese residents in 2000.
Further, no state met a nation’s goal to reduce the number of obese to 15 percent.
Medical costs associated with obesity also have grown to an estimated $147 billion. That’s an average cost for obese people that $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
“Obesity continues to be a major public health problem,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director. “We need intensive, comprehensive and ongoing efforts to address obesity. If we don't more people will get sick and die from obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of death.”
The CDC says that an adult is considered obese if he or she has a body mass index of 30 or above. The number is calculated by using height and weight. For example, a 5-foot-4 woman who weighs 174 pounds or more, or a 5-foot-10 man who weighs 209 pounds or more, has a BMI of 30 and is obese.
Some population were more affected than others. Non-Hispanic black adults had the highest rate of obesity at almost 37 percent. The rate for black women was almost 42 percent. The rate for Hispanics was close to 31 percent.
Education and geography were also factors. Those who did not graduate from high school had an obesity rate of about 33 percent. The state percentages ranged from 18.6 percent in Colorado to 34.4 percent in Mississippi.
Dr. William Dietz, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said Colorado may have a lower rate of obesity because of the altitude of Denver, the largest city. It takes more energy to anything in a higher altitude with thinner air. Also, the state has a culture of activity, with lottery funds invested in walking and biking trails that are heavily used.
The South, on the other hand, may have cultural reasons for its weight, with calorie-laden foods and lack of exercise.
All levels of government and other organizations are working on the problem. First Lady Michelle Obama has launched a campaign called Let’s Move to address childhood obesity. Another federal program called Communities Putting Prevention to Work provides guidance and funding to states to make changes in their residents’ diet and physical activity.
For more information, go to http://cdc.gov/obesity/
Baltimore Sun file photo of First Lady Michelle Obama promoting her Let's Move campaign at Camden Yards/Kim Hairston