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Friday, September 13, 2019 1:00 am

Hoosiers gaining weight

Study: 34.1% obese, up 0.5% in year; nation at 30.9%

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Waistlines keep expanding in Indiana.

The Trust for America's Health reported Thursday that 34.1% of Hoosier adults are obese, compared with 33.6% last year and 32.5% in 2017.

This year's nationwide adult obesity rate is 30.9%, according to the organization's annual report on obesity.

Adult obesity is typically defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher. Body mass index is a person's weight in pounds divided by height in inches squared, then multiplied by 703.

Obesity increases a person's risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and many types of cancer, according to the nonprofit Trust for America's Health, a public health policy, research and advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. 

Its report was financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health philanthropy.

Indiana's adult obesity rate was the nation's 12th highest last year but tied for 15th highest this year. Missouri, Texas, Kansas and Tennessee barreled past the Hoosier State in the latest rankings, while Ohio went from 11th last year to 17th despite a slight increase in its rate to 34%.

Mississippi and West Virginia share the highest obesity rate, 39.5%, and Colorado boasts the lowest, 23%. 

The states with the highest rates tend to be in the South, and those with the lowest rates tend to be in the Northeast and West.

The Trust for America's Health said 33 states, including Indiana, have had “statistically significant increases” in adult obesity rates since 2013. Its report is based in part on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“These latest data shout that our national obesity crisis is getting worse,” John Auerbach, president and CEO of the Trust for America's Health, said in a statement.

The organization made many public policy recommendations for reducing obesity, including:

• Imposing excise taxes on sugary beverages to increase their price and using the tax revenue to address health and socioeconomic disparities.

• Extending the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children from age 5 to age 6 for children and from one year to two years for postpartum women.

• Ensuring that anti-hunger and nutrition assistance programs such as WIC and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program follow the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said Thursday that she has seen no studies showing that soda taxes decrease consumption.

“I think we need to have interprofessional collaboration to carefully assess the situation and potential solutions, but you really need to make sure that you think through these interventions and study them to ensure they have the appropriate impact,” McMahan said in an email.

“One reason we are overweight as a nation is because we spend $10 billion a year literally advertising food,” she said. And she noted that many food sellers deliver their products to people's houses.

The Indiana State Department of Health said it does not comment on policy proposals. A spokeswoman said the agency's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity is involved in many nutrition and physical activity initiatives in communities, schools and child care centers; provides funding for bicycle and pedestrian routes and workplace wellness programs; promotes nutrition standards and guidelines; works to increase access to farmers markets; and helps connect people to emergency food resources. 

“There continues to be a proliferation of fast food establishments, we still have too many areas without access to fresh fruits and vegetables (food deserts), and many areas of the state where there are not places to be physically active,” the health department spokeswoman said in an email.

She said Indiana's obesity rate “appears to be leveling off” in the Trust for America's Health report but that obesity and associated diseases “have reached epidemic proportions in our state.”

Other recommendations by the Trust for America's Health include increasing federal funding for pedestrian safety initiatives, student physical education and evidence-based obesity prevention strategies; providing Medicaid coverage for evidence-based pediatric weight management programs and services; expanding school nutrition programs beyond federal standards; and ending tax loopholes and business cost deductions related to advertising unhealthy food to children. 

bfrancisco@jg.net