Kansas remains among the top 20 states in the nation in obesity among adults, but the rate appears to be leveling off, according to a national study.
Kansas is 19th in the nation in obesity among adults with a rate of 30 percent, up from 22.9 percent in 2004 and 3.5 percent in 1995, according to “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” a 2013 study published recently by the Trust for America’s Health, a health advocacy and research group, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy focused on public health issues.
But the study also shows that the state’s obesity rate has slowed in the last few years and may be stabilizing. It was 29.9 percent in 2012 (14th nationally), 29.6 percent in 2011 (13th), and 29 percent in 2010 (16th.)
Mississippi and West Virginia topped the new study as the heaviest states, with adult obesity rates at 35.1 percent. It’s the first time any state has passed the 35 percent threshold, the report said. Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee rounded out the top five.
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Colorado had the lowest rate of adult obesity at 21.3 percent.
Six states – Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming – saw statistically significant increases in their rates from last year, ranging from 1.7 percentage points to 4.2 percentage points. Only Arkansas experienced such an increase in last year’s report, with its obesity rate climbing from 30.9 percent in 2011 to 34.5 percent 2012.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more, while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is classified as overweight, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hose data was used for the report.
Jennifer Church, section director for community health promotion at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, cautioned that the study showed a leveling off of the state’s obesity rate in 2003, 2004 and 2005, only to have the rate spike again.
“It’s clearly not out of the woods,” she said of the rate. “It usually takes many more years to see if it’s leveling.”
The adult obesity rates among blacks and Latinos in Kansas were higher than among whites, following a national pattern. The rate was 39.2 percent among blacks in Kansas, 33.5 percent among Latinos and 29.2 percent among whites.
Some good news in the study: Kansas was one of 18 states that experienced a decline in obesity rates among chldren ages two to four from low-income families between 2008 and 2011. Over that period, Kansas’ rate fell from 13.3 percent to 12.7 percent, a statistically significant decrease, according to the CDC.
Boomers heaviestAmong age groups, baby boomers (45- to 65-year-olds) were the heaviest Kansans, with 35.1 percent of that population qualifying as obese. Those ages 26 to 44 had the next highest rate, 31.8 percent.
Baby boomers also were heaviest age group nationally. Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the trust, said that was the study’s most alarming finding.
“The much higher level of obesity among boomers is disconcerting on multiple levels, including both the quality of life and the health care costs this may mean ultimately for the Medicare system,” Levi said.
Health problems related to obesity, such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and some cancers, are projected to increase over the next 16 years in Kansas, according to the report. The state ranks 26th among states in adult diabetes with a rate of 9.6 percent. There were nearly 240,000 diabetes cases in Kansas in 2010. At the current pace, there will be 367,777 diabetes cases in Kansas in 2030, according to the study.
Kansas ranks 27th in hypertension with a rate of 31.3 percent. In 2010 there were 558,427 cases of hypertension in the state. That number is projected to rise to 713,158 in 2030 at the current pace, the study said.
Cases of heart disease are projected to soar from 176,438 in 2010 to 769,578 in 2030.
“It’s a huge concern,” Church said. “It’s one of the leading causes of death, and it’s very costly.”
KDHE works with local communities and schools to prevent obesity, such as implementing transportation plans that include bike and walking paths, developing healthy eating alternatives, and creating recreation opportunities.
“Obesity is very complex and there are a lot of factors that play a role, especially environmental influences – how we design our communities, and decisions made at local and state levels,” Church said.
“It’s not normal to eat healthy and be active,” she said. “To the contrary, our environment makes it difficult to be healthy and active.”
Steps toward healthBut, she said, communities across the state want to change that, and are taking steps to improve health.
That includes Sedgwick County, she said.
J’Vonnah Maryman, division director for public health performance with the county health department, said the county’s adult obesity rate has held steady at 30 percent since 2012, according to the annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Surveys.
That rate is lower than a targeted rate of 30.5 percent by 2020, which was set by HealthyPeople.gov, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, she said.
“We really want that to decrease,” Maryman said, “ but we believe also that the fact it has not increased is a reflection of the work being done by numerous partnerships and entities within the community.”
She cited the Community Health Improvement Plan by a coalition of partners like the Visioneering Wichita Health Alliance, the county health department and United Way.
The plan includes strategies to reduce obesity through physical activities, nutrition, education and exercising at the workplace.
“I believe with this work going on, and raising awareness of obesity within the community, the rate will change,” Maryman said. “We also recognize that behavioral change is difficult and it takes time.”