Colorado is the country’s only state with an adult obesity rate below 20%. (Its rate is 19.1%.) More than two-thirds of states (38) have adult obesity rates above 25%, and rates increased in 28 states in the past year. These statistics were released this week in F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010, a report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This sobering news comes just in time for America’s 234th birthday, when millions of us will head to cookouts and celebrate with family, friends, and food.
How did we get here? The 2010 report shows that compared with last year’s data, the country’s obesity epidemic is growing steadily. The report’s summary also points out that in 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20%.
“Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges the country has ever faced, and troubling disparities exist based on race, ethnicity, region, and income,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of TFAH. “This report shows that the country has taken bold steps to address the obesity crisis in recent years, but the nation’s response has yet to fully match the magnitude of the problem. Millions of Americans still face barriers—like the high cost of healthy foods and lack of access to safe places to be physically active—that make healthy choices challenging.”
Some examples of the racial, ethnic, regional, and income disparities Levi mentions are given in the report’s findings:
- Adult obesity rates for Blacks and Latinos were higher than for Whites in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia
- Ten out of the 11 states with the highest rates of obesity were in the South
- Thirty-five percent of adults earning less than $15,000 per year were obese compared with 24.5% of adults earning $50,000 or more per year
- The number of states where adult obesity rates exceed 30% doubled in the past year, from four to eight.
Perhaps the most troublesome is the data on childhood obesity. The results show that:
- Childhood obesity rates ranged from 9.6% (Oregon) to a high of 21.9% (Mississippi)
- Eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have childhood obesity rates greater than 20%
- Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of obese children are in the South, as are nine out of the 10 states with the highest rates of poverty.
A poll on childhood obesity was included in this year’s report. Eighty-four percent of parents said their children are at a healthy weight, however, research shows that one-third of children are overweight or obese, according to the report. This finding suggests that parents do not think of their own children as having a weight problem. Additionally, the poll results showed that 80% percent of Americans identified childhood obesity as a growing problem, and 50% of Americans believe the issue is so important that we need to invest more to prevent it immediately.
In February of this year, Michelle Obama launched the “Let’s Move” program, an ambitious campaign seeking to end childhood obesity within a generation. The program’s goal is “that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.” Public and private organizations have already started working toward that goal by taking steps to help parents make healthy, informed choices; serve healthier food in schools; help people access healthy, affordable food; increase the number of farmer’s markets; and encourage more physical activity. At the same time as the Let’s Move launch, President Obama announced the formation of a task force on childhood obesity that would identify ways to maximize resources and set benchmarks to achieve the Let’s Move goal.
Following the announcement of the “Let’s Move” campaign, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg wrote an open letter to industry in March calling for better nutrition labeling on food packaging to help consumers make healthier choices. Hamburg focused on the food industry’s use of what could be misleading information to consumers and urged companies to make sure their labeling did not contain unauthorized health or nutrition claims.
And, of course, there are pharmaceutical treatments on the market and in development to fight obesity. Just yesterday, Eisai announced it made a deal with Arena Pharmaceuticals to commercialize the drug candidate lorcaserin, which is designed to control appetite and satiety. Eisai will pay Arena $50 million upfront, up to $90 million in milestone payments, and roughly 30% of product sales. With FDA approval, Eisai will sell the drug in the US. The companies expect an answer from FDA by October of this year.
It is promising that with these measures we can begin to overcome the many complex causes and factors related to the obesity epidemic—physical, emotional, social, ethnic, economic—that we deal with as individuals and as a nation. I sincerely hope that in years to come we can celebrate our country’s 250th 4th of July as a slimmer, healthier America.