Sunday, July 10, 2011

This is So Bad

Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have released their annual obesity statistics, and they're not pretty. See that map above? See how it's mostly red? That means over 25% of the adults living in those states in 2010 were not just overweight, but obese. Kids don't far much better. Click here for the children's obesity map, as well as interactive maps for both populations, and the full report (fittingly titled "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future").

What's even more shocking to me than the high percentages of obesity is how quickly the rates are rising. Eight states have obesity rates that are over 30%. Just four years ago, only one state was above 30%.

The report outlines troubling racial and economic disparities - more African Americans and Latinos were obese compared to whites, and more people making less than $15,000 per year were obese compared to those making more than $50,000 per year.

I'm not sure we can legislate ourselves out of this mess. A junk food tax might help pay for the end result of all the medical care that obesity-related conditions require and might dissuade some from purchasing sodas. Better labeling might enable consumers to see how much sugar is in certain foods by grouping all the sources of sugar together, for example. And subsidizing fruits and vegetables might help bring the costs of those important foods down. But the answer still comes down to education and choice. Unfortunately, changing behaviors is one of the most difficult public health challenges to take on, especially after those behaviors have become the norm. For example, if everyone you know snacks on sodas and chips, it is normal. You are odd if you choose fruit or yogurt. If you are surrounded by overweight people, that becomes the new normal for your community, which means it is accepted and even supported in the options available. Slim people may have trouble finding clothes that fit and healthy foods may be even scarcer as merchants cater to the tastes of their clientele. Those barriers are difficult to overcome.

Do you think changing the food labels like the Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests below will help? (Here is the report from which this image was taken.)

Michelle Obama is trying to bring attention to this issue, and kudos to her for using her platform as First Lady for this issue. States are trying to address the problem through school lunch nutrition guidelines and other legislation. But the problem just keeps getting worse. Any ideas?

Update: If you can't view the graphic for the food label, following the link to the report. The graphic is on page 10.

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