Kentucky drops to 12th from fifth in adult obesity; health official says many programs have contributed to this decrease

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky has seen a decrease in its adult obesity rate, to 31.6 percent in 2014 from 33.2 percent in 2013, causing it to drop to 12th in the nation for adult obesity from fifth, according to the latest State of Obesity Report.

Elaine Russell, the state obesity prevention coordinator, said in a telephone interview that the decrease can be attributed to no one reason. She noted that the state has put a great focus on making sure people have access to healthy foods and physical activity.

“It is a comprehensive effort of many different programs, because we are all working toward the same goal to decrease chronic disease and obesity,” Russell said.

Russell then rattled off many of the state’s obesity-related initiatives, saying public-private partnerships have been key to the success of many of them, including: the Diabetes Prevention Program; the Partnership for a Fit Kentucky program; national policy changes to make sure pregnant and post-partum women on the Women Infant and Children nutrition  program have access to fresh fruits and vegetables; several Centers for Disease Control grants to increase access to farmers’ markets and to help increase walkability in communities; a grant to provide training and technical assistance to worksite wellness programs; and another CDC grant to improve the nutrition and physical activity environments for children up to age 5.

“Schools are a wonderful place to start,” she said. “But we are also working on early care and education because we know that one in three Kentucky children entering Kindergarten are either overweight or obese, so we have to start early.”

She also noted a Kentucky program that promotes breast feeding and encourages hospitals to promote breastfeeding. Studies suggest that children who are exclusively breastfed are less likely to become overweight and that these protections last well into the teenage years and even adulthood, according to the CDC.

High obesity rates are costing taxpayers billions of dollars, leading some states to adopt plans to tackle the problem to create healthier communities, Teresa Wiltz reports for Stateline.

Governors in Arkansas, New York (27 percent adult obesity), Georgia (30.5 percent) and Tennessee (31.2 percent) have all recently announced plans to work on their high rates of obesity, Wiltz writes.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who will leave office Dec. 8, initiated kyhealthnow, a broad initiative that targets seven major measurable health goals to improve the health status of Kentuckians by 2019. One of the goals is to reduce obesity rates by 10 percent.

People who are obese, which is defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher,are at increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis,cancer and the list goes on, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“It is a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” Wiltz writes. According to the States of Obesity Report, obesity-related health problems cost $147 billion to $210 billion each year and and additional $4.3 billion per year because of diminished work productivity and work absenteeism.

Nearly one third of U.S. adults—78 million—are obese, up nearly 50 percent since 1990, according to Health Intelligence, a health data analysis site. Seven of the top 10 most obese states are in the South, and 23 of the top 25 are in the South or Midwest, led by Arkansas with an obesity rate of 35.9 percent.

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