- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2007

(AP) — The District has the highest percentage in the country of obese children and teens, according a report released today by Trust for America’s Health, a research group that focuses on disease prevention.

The report also found obesity rates continued to increase in 31 states last year and that no state showed a decline.

Mississippi became the first state to crack the 30 percent barrier for adult residents considered to be obese. West Virginia and Alabama are just slightly behind.

Colorado continued its reign as the leanest state in the country, with an obesity rate projected at 17.6 percent.

This was the first year the report looked at obesity rates among residents ages 10 to 17. The District had the highest percentage, 22.8 percent. Utah had the lowest percentage of obese youths, 8.5 percent.

The research group wants the government to play a larger role in preventing obesity. People who are overweight are at an increased risk for diabetes, heart problems and other chronic diseases that contribute to greater health care costs.

“It’s one of those issues where everyone believes this is an epidemic, but it’s not getting the level of political and policy-maker attention that it ought to,” said Jeffrey Levi, the group’s executive director. “As every candidate for president talks about health care reform and controlling health care costs, if we don’t home in on this issue, none of their proposals are going to be affordable.”

At the same time, many think weight is a personal choice and responsibility. Mr. Levi doesn’t dispute the idea but said society can help people make good choices.

“If we want kids to eat healthier food, we have to invest the money for school-nutrition programs so that school lunches are healthier,” he said. “If we want people to be more physically active, then there have to be safe places to be active. That’s not just a class issue. We’ve designed suburban communities where there are no sidewalks for anybody to go out and take a walk.”

To measure obesity rates, the group compared 2003 to 2005 data with 2004 to 2006 data. It combined data from three years to improve the accuracy of projections. The data came from a survey of height and weight taken over the telephone by state health departments.

Generally, anyone with a body mass index greater than 30 is considered obese. The index is a ratio that takes into account height and weight. The overweight range is 25 to 29.9. Normal is 18.5 to 24.9. People with a large amount of lean muscle mass, such as athletes, can show a large body mass index without having an unhealthy level of fat.

A lack of exercise is a huge factor in obesity rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last year that more than 22 percent of Americans did not engage in physical activity in the past month. The percentage is greater than 30 percent in four states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Minnesota residents led the way when it came to exercise. Just 15.4 percent of them did not engage in physical exercise, the best rate in the country. Still, the state ranked 28th overall when it came to the percentage of obese adults.

Another factor in obesity rates is poverty. The five poorest states were all in the top 10 when it came to obesity rates. An exception to that rule was the District and New Mexico. Both had high poverty rates, but also one of the better obesity rates among adults.

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