Obesity is a crisis that continues to plague Kentucky and the rest of the country, according to data released Wednesday. An annual report by the health policy group Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows the Commonwealth is ranked eighth nationally among state for the highest obesity rate, with 1-in-3 adults considered obese.
John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America's Health, says obesity isn't about vanity, but rather a crucial indicator of health. "When obesity rates go up, diabetes rates go up," he explains. "And in Kentucky, 13 percent of adults in the state have diabetes. "Then there's also hypertension and heart disease that's often related to obesity. Those are often the number one cause of death."
Obesity rates vary from state to state, with a low of about 23 percent in Colorado to a high of 38 percent in West Virginia. No state showed improvement over the past year. Auerbach cites a connection between societal changes and rising obesity rates."Conditions in people's lives have been changing over the last few decades, making it more difficult to have healthier foods and physical activity as a natural part of their lives," he points out. "That has to do with everything from school policy to transportation policy to the way that neighborhoods are designed."
While the obesity rate among high school students of 20 percent in Kentucky rose slightly, Auerbach says data also shows a decline in rates among 2-to-4-year-oldsenrolled in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. "Twenty years ago, it was very rare to find any children that were obese," Auerbach points out. "Now to find almost 1 in 5 in Kentucky that are obese means we need do some things that are very much focused on children's health."
Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is working with six local communities on childhood obesity prevention measures, including improving access to healthier foods and physical activity opportunities, and integrating both into school policies.