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Ohio among 4 states to mark lower obesity rate

‘Cautious optimism’ greets 1st drop in decade

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    According to a study, Ohio is one of four states to see a decrease in obesity rates.


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Ohio is one of only four states to see a decrease in adult obesity rates over the last year, according to a report released Thursday, marking the first time multiple states have dropped in a decade.

“The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America” shows 29.8 percent of adults in Ohio were obese in 2015, down from 32.6 percent in 2014. Minnesota, Montana, and New York also recorded decreases, while Kansas and Kentucky’s rates increased. Ohio ranks 26th-highest in adult obesity rate.

Michigan’s 31.2 percent of adults with obesity ranked 16th-highest in the country, which includes the 50 states and the District of Columbia. No state has seen a decrease in the adult obesity rate in the last decade except the District of Columbia in 2010, according to the report, published by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virgina have the highest rates of adult obesity, while Colorado, the District of Columbia, and Hawaii have the lowest.

Richard Hamburg, interim president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, said obesity — defined in the report as a body mass index of 30 or greater — remains one of the “biggest and costliest health threats to the country” and costs $147 billion in health spending per year. He said news that four states showed decreasing obesity rates was cause for “cautious optimism” compared with just a few years ago when upward of 20 to 30 states would post increases year after year.

“The stakes could not be higher,” said Dr. Donald F. Schwarz, vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The obesity epidemic is taking a toll on the country’s health.” By 2050, he said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects 1 in 3 Americans could have diabetes.

Mr. Hamburg said he sees “troubling inequities” in obesity rates, including racial disparities, education, and income factors. Nationwide, nearly 33 percent of adults who did not graduate from high school were obese, compared with 21.5 percent of those who graduated from college or technical college, Mr. Hamburg said.

In Ohio, 37.1 percent of black adults are obese, compared with 30.5 percent of white adults and 26.3 percent of Latinos.

Dr. Schwarz said states should focus on policies that promote obesity-prevention tools, expanding access to healthful foods and places to be active, and increasing resources to eliminate demographic disparities. He credited several in states that improved, including $2 million of seed capital in the 2016-2017 Ohio budget to create a Healthy Food Financing Initiative.

Despite progress over the last year, Ohio’s adult obesity rate has steadily increased over time. It was 24.9 percent in 2005 and 11.3 percent in 1990. The 2014 Lucas County Health Assessment found that 36 percent of county residents were obese, though 48 percent were trying to lose weight.

Dr. Gregory Johnston, a bariatric surgeon with Mercy Health, agrees with the cautious optimism expressed by Mr. Hamburg and Dr. Schwarz.

“I think we need to have a conversation; many times people are afraid to talk about weight,” he said. That conversation should start with family practice doctors and continue on to bariatric surgeons and weight specialists if needed, he said.

Northwest Ohio is still struggling with obesity and its related diseases, including high blood pressure and diabetes, he said. In addition to adult surgical options, Dr. Johnston said about 35 youths participate in programs at Mercy Health to learn healthful food choices and work with a trainer.

“While the obesity rate might be dropping [in Ohio], I think we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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