- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Obesity rates rose about 1 percent to 2 percent last year in the area, according to a report released yesterday by a Washington health advocacy group.

The study by Trust for America’s Health did not explain why rates are up in the metropolitan area but noted that the American public’s weight is influenced by daily consumption, exercise, education and income levels.

Obesity is defined as anyone having a body mass index — a height and weight measurement known as BMI — of 30 or higher.

People with a BMI of 25 to 29 as classified are overweight, while a healthy index is 19 to 25. But health officials have said the measurement is not a good indicator of obesity for muscular people who exercise frequently.

The study found Maryland, Virginia and the District’s obesity rates rose to roughly 23 percent to 24 percent of the populaton in 2004.

Obesity rates rose in 35 states and the District while they dropped in 14 states during the same one-year period, said the report, which based its information on state surveys compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 23.2 percent of American adults were obese last year, climbing about half a percentage point from the 2003 average of 22.8 percent, the report said.

“That’s pretty dramatic growth,” said Parris N. Glendening, co-author of the report and former two-term Maryland governor.

The report, like others that have been released in the past few years, labeled obesity as a “complex issue,” and said several factors are to blame.

Besides the population’s increased caloric intake and more sedentary lifestyles, previous obesity reports have said an urban or rural environment can contribute to weight gain.

In the Washington area, which has one of the highest rates of suburban sprawl, Mr. Glendening said the area’s higher incomes helped keep the region’s obesity rates from leading the nation.

States with the highest obesity rates were mostly Southern states such as Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana, the report said.

Those states had more than one-fourth of their population registering as obese.

Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington taxpayer advocacy group, said the report’s findings were another attempt by a nonprofit group to push more government control over the public’s eating habits.

“This is really a wasted effort because overweight people can recognize on their own that less overeating and more exercise leads to the path of slimming down,” spokesman Tom Finnigan said.

But government and private industry efforts, coupled with more public awareness of personal responsibility, are necessary to shrink America’s growing waistlines, said Mr. Glendening, now president for the Smart Growth Leadership Institute, a Washington advocacy group that fights suburban sprawl.

“The bottom line is there is a lot more that could and should be done to help people with nutrition and exercise among other things,” he said.

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