Hoosiers are getting fatter.
Indiana’s adult obesity rate is now 31 percent, tying it with South Carolina as the 8th chubbiest state in the country, according to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012,” a report released Tuesday by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The latest figures continue an undesirable trend in Indiana, where the obesity rate was 27.4 percent in 2009 (placing it 16th), 28.1 percent in 2010 (17th) and 29.1 percent in 2011 (15th).
Mississippi claimed the top spot this year with an adult obesity rate of 35 percent, followed by Louisiana (33 percent) and West Virginia and Alabama (32 percent). The slimmest state was Colorado with an adult obesity rate of 21 percent, followed by Hawaii (22 percent) and Massachusetts (23 percent).
Stacey Matavuli, a registered dietitian at IU Health-Bloomington Hospital, said this year’s study used a new methodology that rendered more accurate results.
“Indiana has always been a little fatter than we thought,” she said. “In the past we’ve gotten a false sense of security. This year’s ranking — 8th in the country — is more reflective of where we truly are.”
Matavuli said the prevalence of porky Hoosiers might stem from an abundance of all-you-can-eat buffets, big box stores that serve food in bulk and restaurants that offer huge food portions on platters rather than plates.
“When McDonald’s first started, they served hamburgers and cheeseburgers,” she said. “Now they have double cheeseburgers and quarter pounders. Health wise, bigger is not always better.”
Matavuli said 25 years ago, a standard grocery store bagel was 2 ounces. Today, she said, it’s 3 1/2 to 4 ounces.
“In the ‘60s, a bottle of Coke was 6 ounces,” she said. “Now when we talk about the norm, we’re talking about a 20- to 44-ounce drink.”
She said a Purdue University researcher found that when sugar is consumed in solid form — such as jelly beans or gelatin — a sense of satiation is sent to the brain much sooner than when the same amount of sugar is consumed in liquid form.
Making matters worse, said Matavuli, is that many households in which both parents work full time and take care of children struggle to find time to cook healthful meals.
“So many people will pick up fast food or heat up pre-cooked food at home that is not healthy,” she said. “But you can cook a healthy meal in 30 minutes, such as a stir fry with frozen vegetables, chicken breast and brown rice.”
If the trend continues
The report says if Indiana’s obesity rate continues on its current trajectory, the rate could grow from 31 percent in 2011 to 56 percent by 2030. Adults are considered obese if their BMI is 30 or higher.
The report says that in Indiana over the next two decades, obesity could contribute to 814,420 new cases of Type 2 diabetes, 1,746,600 new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, 1,624,343 new cases of hypertension, 1,054,503 new cases of arthritis and 243,537 new cases of obesity-related cancer.
In the U.S., the report says, medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48 billion to $66 billion per year by 2030, and the loss in economic productivity could be between $390 billion and $580 billion annually by that year.
“We have to do something to stem the tide — as individuals and as a society,” Matavuli said. “We all have to take personal responsibility for what we put in our mouths and the choices we make. We have to make tough decisions when it comes to saying no to our children or to ourselves.”
If people don’t make those tough decisions, she said, we will pay a price as individuals and as a society. “No one will be able to afford health care because the premiums will be so high to cover all the chronic diseases people are having,” she said. “Unless something changes, the system will bankrupt itself.”
When asked about a so-called “fat tax” advocated by some, in which people would pay a higher tax for fat-rich foods in the same way people now pay higher taxes for tobacco products, she said it might deter some people from buying a large amount of fatty foods.
“I’m a frugal individual, so if there was a fat tax on Twinkies and I liked Twinkies, I would probably find a less expensive alternative or bake some oatmeal cookies at home,” she said. “A tax would probably not deter people who really want those foods, but I think it would change some peoples’ purchases.”
Matavuli said the ever-rising obesity numbers may ultimately result in higher taxes, or higher premiums being charged to people with BMIs higher than 30.
Less is more
If Hoosiers could lower their body mass index by 5 percent, 170,743 of them could be spared from developing Type 2 diabetes, 140,700 could avoid coronary heart disease and stroke, and 128,579 could sidestep hypertension. There also could be 74,684 fewer cases of arthritis, and 10,883 fewer Hoosiers contracting obesity-related cancer.
What’s more, a 5 percent BMI reduction by Hoosiers could save Indiana 7.1 percent in health care costs, which would translate into $13.4 billion in savings by 2030. For a 6-foot-tall person weighing 200 pounds, a 5 percent reduction in BMI would be the equivalent of losing about 10 pounds.
“Science shows us that losing 5 to 10 percent of your current weight and maintaining that loss gives you the most bang for your buck as far as chronic disease prevention or reduction,” Matavuli said. “If you lose more than that, you will have an even greater health benefit, but in our society, we tend to feel that if you can’t lose an extreme amount of weight, it’s not beneficial — and that’s just not true.
“A lot of people wait until they have a heart attack or are diagnosed with diabetes before they take responsibility to do something about it,” she said. “People need to take those positive steps before they have a crisis situation.”
Hoosiers are getting fatter.
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