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Area officials weigh on obesity issue
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and more mechanization are among the reasons officials cited Tuesday for increasing adult obesity.

A new study shows that adult obesity rates are on course to increase dramatically in every state by 2030.

Dr. Gordon Green of Martinsville, director of the West Piedmont Health District, said he had not seen the report released by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, but the growing problem of obesity locally, statewide and nationally is a major concern. The health district includes Henry, Patrick and Frankin counties and Martinsville.

According to statistics on the County Health Rankings website, based on 2009 data, Henry County, Martinsville and Patrick County’s adult obesity rates all were above Virginia’s rate. According to those rankings, Henry County’s adult obesity rate was 29 percent of the population, Martinsville’s rate was 32 percent, Patrick County’s rate was 30 percent and Virginia’s 28 rate was percent.

County Health Rankings also gave these statistics on physical inactivity: Henry County 33 percent, Patrick County 27 percent, Martinsville 29 percent and Virginia 24 percent.

Green said a person’s weight is a balance between how much food people eat and how many calories they burn.

“You cannot drop weight by physical activity alone,” he said. He added that effective weight loss results from a combination of physical activity and changing one’s diet to eat more fruits and vegetables and cut back on sugars, starches and fats.

Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, all of which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, Green said. Obesity also increases stress on the lower back, hips, knees and ankles, which can lead to arthritis. And arthritis limits people’s ability to be active, which makes the problem of obesity even worse, he said.

“This is a major, major issue,” he said of obesity.

Barbara Jackman, executive director of the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, said “obesity typically is a lifestyle condition.” She said she believes obesity is projected to increase because many people are spending far more time sitting — for instance, watching TV, at computers or playing video games — than they are exercising regularly. And diets high in fat and sugar with large portions lead to obesity, she said.

But people can choose to change their lifestyles, Jackman said.

The coalition is trying to create and offer a variety of programs, services, activities and venues where people can participate in fun, group, accessible, free physical activities. The coalition also offers classes in cooking and shopping to promote good nutrition, she said.

“We’re trying to put all this out there ... but people still have to choose to do it,” she said. “It’s a slow process.”

The coalition sees people every day who are losing inches, dropping weight and lowering their blood pressure by eating more healthfully, Jackman said.

She said the coalition focuses a lot on children and young families in hopes they will develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Dr. David Trump, acting director for the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Family Health Services, said the challenge of obesity in the United States and Virginia did not develop overnight, and it will not be solved overnight. He said Virginia is working on a variety of fronts to promote healthful nutrition and physical activity.

Like Jackman, he said what happens in childhood can set the stage, so it’s important for children to have healthy diets and be physically active.

Rich Hamburg, deputy director at Trust for America’s Health, said in a phone interview that he attributes the increase in obesity in the United States to such things as people not exercising enough, eating more sugar and fats, and taking in more calories.

The obesity report says, among other things:

The trend in America over the past 20 to 30 years has been a decrease in physical activity combined with an increase in food intake.

More than a quarter of U.S. adults do not engage in any leisure-time physical activities or exercises.

Non-leisure-time physical activity has decreased substantially in the past 20 years to 30 years due to increasing mechanization at work and at home. Non-leisure-time physical activity is defined as energy spent in a normal day outside of sports, exercise and recreation. This includes manual labor on the job, walking and biking to work, and household chores.

A majority of U.S. adults aged 20 to 74 walk less than two to three hours per week and accumulate fewer than 5,000 steps per day. U.S. physical activity guidelines call for adults to walk 10,000 steps daily.

Americans’ average daily caloric intake is 300 calories higher than it was in 1985 and 600 calories higher than in 1970, according to 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Americans consumed an average of 640 calories worth of added fats per person per day in 2008.

Americans generally are eating bigger portion sizes, fewer fruits, vegetables and whole grains but eating more sugar. Average consumption of added sugars increased 14 percent from 1970 to 2008.

There has been a large increase in soda, fruit juice and other sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.

People eat out a lot more. Since the 1960s, the money Americans spend on food eaten outside the home has nearly doubled.


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