Five states, including West Virginia, have adult obesity rates above 35%, according to the 2016 State of Obesity Report. American’s waistlines have been steadily increasing since data collection began in 1990, but the problem is particularly acute in the Southeast and Midwest.
“Approximately 38% of the adult population in West Virginia are obese, a very concerning percentage for an indicator of poor health and risk for diabetes, heart disease and another of other health concerns,” said John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health. Trust for America's Health is one of two groups, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that produced the report.
“West Virginia was not the only state with an increase this year, there were three other states, but 45 states are following the trend that we’ve seen for the last year or two, which is a stabilization of the obesity rates,” he said.
Although we are seeing a stabilization of weight gain trends, he said, the rates across the country are much higher than they were a decade or two ago. Additionally, stabilization may be at risk.
“We have found that the programs that are helpful in states are in danger of being reduced in terms of their funding,” he said. “And those includes the Centers for Disease Control funding, which gives grants to West Virginia and other states to work on these issues and other issues as well as programs like WIC, Head Start and child and adult care food programs.”
Auerbach said the foundation believes it’s important not to lose ground on those programs. Rather, they should be funded more aggressively, particularly focusing on access to healthy food issues, including healthy school lunches.
But the most effective programs, he said, are those that integrate public and private sector efforts, including workplace involvement, federal funding, more activity and nutrition in the school day and better infrastructure for walking and biking.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.