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U.S. Obesity Levels on the Rise, Group Says

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Obesity Levels by State

Despite recent attention to the issue of obesity and its relation to health problems such as diabetes and hypertension, not one state showed a decline in the rate of obesity, according to the Trust for America's Health on Obesity, a nonprofit organization.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

A new report from the group Trust for America's Health on Obesity is called F as in fat. Most Americans agree that obesity is a serious problem. But last year in 31 states the rate of obesity continued to rise. Since 2003, when the non-profit, bi-partisan organization started tracking these trends, not one state has reported a decline in obesity.

NPR's Brenda Wilson reports.

BRENDA WILSON: The report not only tracks trends, it ranks states. Colorado is the leanest state, but even there obesity went up a little over half a percentage point. This report found the heaviest people in the South - in Mississippi - where nearly a third of adults are considered obese.

Pointing out the severity of the problem in the South, Jeff Levi, the executive director of Trust for America's Health, says it's not the same as picking on fat people.

Mr. JEFF LEVI (Executive Director, Trust for America's Health): This isn't about stigmatizing individuals. It is about alerting and trying to catalyze state legislatures, community zoning boards, school boards, whoever has a role to play, and they all do.

WILSON: Even as he spoke, experts in southern states were meeting at the Obesity Summit in Little Rock, Arkansas to discuss ways to reverse obesity trends in the South - by building more parks, restricting vending machines that sell junk food in schools, and requiring physical education programs for students.

But at yesterday's teleconference, Joshua Norman, a reporter with the Mississippi Sun Herald, wondered whether state programs would be enough to get people in Mississippi to shed pounds.

Mr. JOSHUA NORMAN (Mississippi Sun Herald): I worked and lived here in Mississippi, and I got to say that we're talking about a massive cultural shift. We have an overweight governor. Our last Department of Health director weighed 300 pounds. And it seems like this culture of bad food is part of the fabric of this state.

How do you propose really combating something that's beyond just, you know, getting kids to workout more and eat healthier food? I mean, how do you get them to stop eating fried catfish five times a week when it's what people do here?

WILSON: But it comes as no surprise to Mississippi's interim state health director, Dr. Ed Thompson, that the state has the worst record.

Dr. ED THOMPSON (Interim State Health Officer, Mississippi): We're on the front end of a very negative trend, but the rest of the country is coming right along with us.

WILSON: The report looks at an average of the latest yearly trends. Thompson is looking at one year alone.

Dr. THOMPSON: For 2006, the most recent year, where things are actually going, you will see that Mississippi is number one, but Michigan is number five.

WILSON: It's a statistical argument, but he's making the same point as Trust for America's Health. There's no region of the country that's not in trouble. And he says Mississippi has undertaken initiatives and passed laws. It now requires 30 minutes of physical activity three days a week for children in grades kindergarten through 12.

And it now also provides vouchers under the Women and Infants Nutrition Program for fruits and vegetables from the local farmers markets. Dr. James Wood(ph), a pediatrician, is the senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supports such programs.

Dr. JAMES WOOD (Senior Vice President, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation): I think we will see, as we're starting to see, some of the changes in the behaviors before we actually see the weight turn around.

WILSON: The obesity report calls for more research and more support from the federal government.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

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