Listen up, Kansas and Missouri. If we keep eating the way we have been, by 2030 nearly two-thirds of us are going to be obese. That’s seriously fat and unhealthy.
We’ll also rank among the 10 fattest states in the nation.
This alarming news came in a study released Tuesday forecasting that if the United States stays on its high-calorie trajectory for the next 18 years, more than 60 percent of adults in 13 states will be obese, and there will be no states at all where fewer than 44 percent of adults are obese.
Right now, in the fattest state in the nation, Mississippi, the adult obesity rate is 34.9 percent.
Not all the statistics appearing in “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future,” a report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are so bleak.
Researchers for the two nonpartisan health organizations also calculated what would happen if we reduced our body fat even slightly: millions of people would be spared from obesity-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis, and health care bills would be billions of dollars lower.
“There’s things we can do to change the future,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health. “We know how to prevent this; we know how to reverse this course.”
In a news conference Tuesday, Levi and Michelle Larkin, deputy director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Group pointed to a variety of local initiatives that could be applied elsewhere: From healthful school lunches — no sugary drinks or deep-fried foods — that have helped cut obesity among Philadelphia children, to successful efforts to lure supermarkets with fresh fruit and vegetables into Kansas City, Kan.
But unless the efforts in what Levi termed “pockets of change” become the norm, the future will weigh heavily on us.
In the previous two decades, the nation’s obesity rates tripled, Levi said. In the next two decades they may double if current trends continue.
By 2030, Kansas and Louisiana will tie for seventh fattest state, with 62.1 percent of adults obese. Missouri will be close behind in ninth place with an obesity rate of 61.9 percent. That represents a doubling in both Kansas and Missouri of the percentage obese.
Mississippi will remain fattest in the nation in 2030 with 66.7 percent of adults obese. At the bottom of the list will be relatively trim Colorado, with 44.8 percent obese. Colorado also was the leanest state in 2011, but only 20.7 percent of adults were obese.
“We haven’t totally woken up to this problem,” said Kansas City Health Department director Rex Archer. “We can’t afford as a nation to have more than half of our adults obese.”
Increasing levels of overweight generally bring on more health problems, Archer said. Obesity is the term applied to levels of overweight that pose the most serious health risks.
The most frequently used measure of body fat is the body mass index, or BMI, a calculation based on a person’s height and weight. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal. A BMI of 30 or higher is obese.
For example, normal weight for a person who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall is 122 to 164 pounds. At 197 pounds or more, the person is obese.
By one estimate cited by the new report, obesity in the U.S. will contribute to more than 6 million new cases of Type 2 diabetes, 5 million cases of heart disease and stroke and 400,000 cases of cancer over the next 20 years.
But this disease burden could be reduced significantly if states cut their average BMIs by just 5 percent, the report said.
In Kansas, for example, dropping that much body fat would mean there would be 77,000 fewer Type 2 diabetes cases by 2030 and a cumulative savings of $2.4 billion in health care costs. In Missouri, those lost pounds would mean 180,000 fewer cases of diabetes and a savings of $5 billion.
Archer put much of the blame for the obesity epidemic on persuasive marketing by the “fast food-junk food industry.”
“Short of a marathon runner with a tapeworm you can’t eat the kinds of meals being sold without gaining weight,” he said.
The stresses of poverty also make people more susceptible to the allure of junk food, Archer said. People living in poor neighborhoods also have less access to fresh healthful foods. Fear of crime keeps the poor from going outdoors to exercise.
“It’s not that people in some states have less willpower than people in other states. It’s that the social environment is different,” Archer said.
Living in rural areas also makes obesity more likely, said Robert Moser, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Long distances to destinations mean more driving and less walking. Farm mechanization means less heavy manual labor.
“These people work hard, but they’re not burning up calories the way their predecessors did,” Moser said.
Earlier this month, Moser and other state officials gathered in Topeka for the Kansas Summit on Obesity, which generated a long list of recommendations including adding more physical activity at schools, improving community walking programs and working with retailers to increase access to healthful foods.
Locally, work already is under way. Wyandotte County has attracted at least four supermarkets in the past two years and more are anticipated.
The county Unified Government also is working to improve sidewalks and bike trails.
Health departments in Jackson County are using a $700,000 federal Community Transformation Grant for such initiatives as promoting walking to school and encouraging corner grocery stores to stock fresh produce.
Reducing obesity “really depends on what we collectively do or don’t do,” Archer said.