CDC: Obesity Is A "Major Public Health Threat" The U.S. obesity epidemic continues its alarming increase. Federal health officials say the number of states where nearly one-third of the adults is obese has tripled. Officials say states are going to have to work hard to stop the epidemic.

CDC: Obesity Is A "Major Public Health Threat"

CDC: Obesity Is A "Major Public Health Threat"

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The U.S. obesity epidemic continues its alarming increase. Federal health officials say the number of states where nearly one-third of the adults is obese has tripled. Officials say states are going to have to work hard to stop the epidemic.


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


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

To realize the full meaning of what we're about to tell you, keep two different terms in mind. People defined as overweight weigh more than experts say is healthy. People defined as obese weigh even more than that. And more than one-quarter of all American adults are defined not as overweight but as obese in the latest government report. NPR's Patti Neighmond has more.

PATTI NEIGHMOND: Not a single state has met national goals set more than a decade ago to reduce obesity to 15 percent of the population. In fact, the problem is growing. In nine states now, one out of every three adults is obese. And it's fair to say the rest of the nation isn't far behind those states.

Now, these aren't people who are overweight, who could stand to lose maybe 10 pounds. These are people who are obese - defined by federal officials as a body mass index of 30 or more.

Dr. Bill Dietz is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. BILL DIETZ (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): A woman who is five foot four inches tall and weighs 180 pounds is considered obese. A man who is six feet tall and weighs over 224 pounds is considered obese.

NEIGHMOND: And the new numbers are surely an underestimate, says Dietz. The information was gathered from a nationwide telephone survey. And it's known, he says, that both men and women often say they weigh less than they actually do. But even though the problem is huge, Dietz says blaming individuals for their weight is not a solution. He says in order for people to make healthy choices, they have to have healthy choices available.

Dr. DIETZ: For example, in Boston, for many years, the three major African-American neighborhoods lacked a supermarket. People had to go on one or two buses in order to buy food.

All cities have these examples where food is not available locally, or if it is it's sold in mom and pop corner stores, which don't have the facilities for providing frozen foods or even fresh foods or for that matter low-fat products like low-fat or skim milk.

NEIGHMOND: Massachusetts has made policy changes that have increased availability of healthy foods in low-income communities. But most areas of the country are still lagging behind. Dismal food choices in urban and even rural small markets is a big problem, says Dietz, one equaled by safety issues that discourage exercise in many neighborhoods.

Dr. DIETZ: We know that television viewing is a risk factor for obesity in children. And for a long time I thought that that was a parenting issue. Until one mother told me that at least when her son was watching television, she wasn't worried that he'd be shot. And that brought home the important relationship between neighborhood safety and opportunities for physical activity for children.

NEIGHMOND: Obesity among children and adults is a complicated problem, says Dietz. And it requires a variety of national, state and local changes.

Take Colorado. It's the state with the lowest obesity rate in the nation. Granted, a lot of that has to do with individuals moving to the state to take part in the plentiful outdoor activities it offers. But Amy Downs, a policy analyst with the Colorado Health Institute, says there have also been major policy changes like this voter initiative.

Ms. AMY DOWNS (Colorado Health Institute): We have proceeds from the Colorado lottery that are reinvested in state parks, recreational facilities and open space. So in terms of open space you might have a lot of biking, hiking and jogging trails, giving people the opportunity to exercise. And these funds have been significant. Since 1983, proceeds for these efforts have totaled over $2 billion.

NEIGHMOND: Colorado is certainly a model for encouraging physical activity. But even there the obesity rate is nearly one in five adults. And that's a doubling over the past 15 years, which is why, Amy Downs says, the state is trying to get more fresh fruits and vegetables into schools and small food markets.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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