Obese Ohio

Ohio is no longer in the top 10 list of states with the highest obesity rates.  Whoo-hoo!  But that’s where the good news ends.

Gallup and Healthways conduct an annual study to assess obesity rates in the United States, and the results are appalling.  Nationally, the obesity problem keeps getting worse, with the obesity rate in 2014 reaching 27.7 percent.  In Mississippi, which heads up the national top 10 list, the obesity rate is a shocking 35.2 percent.  Ohio dropped from number 8 in 2013 to number 13 in 2014, but that decline seems to be mostly because other people in other states are simply getting fatter, faster, than Ohioans.  Ohio’s obesity rate is 29.9 percent — which means Ohio is just a few sugary sodas away from joining the roster of states where the obesity rates is above 30 percent.

You can quibble about the design of the Gallup-Healthways study; it uses self-reported weight and height information to calculate obesity based on Body Mass Index, a measure that many experts consider to be crude and not entirely reliable.  But anyone with eyes can see that Americans keep getting fatter and fatter, which means that more Americans are dealing with adverse health consequences and increases in health care costs that flow from obesity-related conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

The Gallup-Healthways study also found a strong link between obesity and a sense of overall personal well-being.  That conclusion squares with research that shows poverty and obesity are related — according to a recent USDA study, for example, 40 percent of Americans on food stamps are obese — and is consistent with our everyday experience.  People who are struggling with financial problems, social problems, or a lack of purpose are less likely to get out and exercise or pay much attention to their health and appearance and more likely to find solace in a nightly quart of ice cream.  Their increasing weight then becomes part of a downward cycle that ends in depression and obesity.

What, then, is the answer to the obesity problem?  Government programs and hectoring don’t seem to work.  The key is getting individual Americans to care more about their own circumstances and develop more self-awareness and self-respect.  But how?

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