Ohio ranked 13th nationally for obese adults in a report released Monday with 29.6 percent of adults in the Buckeye State classified as obese.
The new report from Trust for America’s Health ranked Mississippi first, with 34.9 percent of adults classified as obese. Colorado was the leanest state, with 20.7 percent of adults classified as obese. The report found that 26 of the 30 fattest states are in the Midwest and South. Ohio maintained its 13th spot from the previous report.
Local health officials weren’t surprised by the report, and they warned that reversing the state’s weight problem won’t happen overnight.
“It’s taken us decades to reach this unhealthy point. We are not going to turn this around in a few weeks. It is going to take time,” said Montgomery County Health Commissioner Jim Gross.
Nationally, public health entities have taken on obesity as their latest challenge, he said. It’s easy to tell people to just eat less and exercise more, but making it happen is complicated. National strategies to help the U.S. slim down focus on policy changes and changes to the built environment to help make healthy living easier.
Policy changes include actions like eliminating pop machines in public schools and requiring schools to meet certain dietary guidelines in lunches.
Changes to the built environment include actions like building sidewalks and bicycle lanes in cities, or adding parks and recreational facilities so people can exercise safely.
“Built environment changes are a little more difficult to come by,” he said. “They can be costly.”
Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County implemented “Get Up Montgomery County,” a program aimed at improving physical activity and eating habits, several years ago. Under the program, the health department will launch a pilot project aimed at improving students’ health in Dayton Public Schools and Kettering City Schools this year.
Teachers will be given a classroom guide to implement the “Get Up” program. The guide will include ideas for healthy classroom snacks, ways to incorporate more physical activity into the day and other components for healthier living.
The two districts will also kick off staff wellness programs, Gross said.
Health officials hope students will bring the healthy habits they learn in school home to their parents, who will make changes at home, Gross said.
Obesity isn’t just about being fat, experts say. Excess weight leads to a host of dangerous – and expensive – health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.
“It’s not just the weight,” Levi said. “It’s the diseases associated with the weight. “It’s the higher rates of diabetes and the higher rates of hypertension and the higher rates of cancer and the higher rates of heart disease.”
In 2005, about 5.3 percent of Ohio adults had type 2 diabetes, he said; now, just over 10 percent of adults have the disease.
A report released in May by the Institutes of Medicine estimated the cost of treating obesity-related disease at $190.2 billion annually.
Health-care providers see the results of America’s obesity epidemic in their exam rooms every day.
Dr. Joe Northup, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of Mercy Health’s Healthy Weight Solutions in Fairfield, called obesity “the epidemic of our lifetime.”
All of the patients he sees are overweight or obese, and many already have health problems related to their obesity.
Like Teegala, he sees a lack of knowledge and often a lack of motivation as the real issues.
“You just have to take a little time and say, ‘I have 30 minutes.’ Most of us, instead of watching a re-run on television, we can exercise in that time,” he said.
Dr. Yamini Teegala, assistant medical director at Rocking Horse Community Health Center in Springfield, estimates that at least 60 percent of the center’s adult patients are overweight or obese. She sees about 20 patients a day, and has to talk to about half of those patients about their weight every day.
Eating well and exercising are more complicated in some communities because there are no supermarkets selling fresh fruits and vegetables or no sidewalks where families can safely walk.
But many health professionals say the real problem is that their patients simply don’t know what to eat or how to exercise.
“I really think it’s a lack of education,” she said.
Food manufacturers and restaurants are making changes to their products to reduce fat, calories and sodium, but “but at the consumer level, I think there is a lack of knowledge,” Teegala said.