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Obesity has become a widespread epidemic, gaining the attention of policymakers and public health officials. Obesity is a risk factor that can lead to many other illnesses including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, coronary vascular disease, heart attack, and various cancers, which leads to further morbidity and mortality. The high obesity rates has increased job absenteeism and has led to lower productivity while at work. The Milken Institute School of Public Health reported that more than 100,000 of premature deaths and 75 percent of hypertension cases were related to obesity (2018). It was shown that the rising rates of obesity and related health problems has resulted in a financial strain on the healthcare system. Overall, $150B is spent annually on health care; approximately $1B is spent on health care and lost productivity amongst obese service members and their family; $8B is spent on state Medicaid programs for severe obesity; and $6.3B is spent on indirect costs associated with absenteeism caused by obesity. Federal and state programs have sought to address this concern through various intervention strategies such as food labeling and nutritional regulations to help consumers make better decisions on food choices; publicly funded scientific research to examine the biomedical mechanisms of weight control; land-use proposals to encourage active lifestyles; and educational programs to improve the public’s awareness of the importance of a proper diet and adequate exercise (Salinsky & Scott, 2003). U.S government agencies and health organizations have also published guidelines to prevent obesity through exercise, diet, or both. Despite these intervention strategies, there has been limited success in tackling the rising rates of obesity. This could be because obesity is a complex issue that doesn’t have a single cause. Besides behavioral factors, economic, social, and environmental factors contributes to this problem.
Obesity rates in America are disturbingly high. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health released its 15th annual “State of Obesity” report, adult obesity rates now exceed 35% in seven states, 30% in 29 states and 25% in 48 states (Adult Obesity, 2018). Currently, West Virginia is ranked number one in the nation for the second year in a row and is the seventh highest for youth ages 10-17. In 1990, their rate was 13.7 percent and 23.9 percent in 2000. In the 2017 report, their obesity rate was 37.7 percent but has now increased to 38.1 percent. Apart from West Virginia, obesity rates increased in Iowa, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Carolina between 2016 and 2017, and remained stable in the rest of states. Currently, Colorado has the lowest obesity rate at 22.6 percent.
What was interesting to find was that obesity rates significantly increased across all ethnic and racial groups, ages, and genders, but is highest among Black and Latino populations (National Obesity Rates, n.d.). In 2015-2016, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reported that more than one in four Latino children ages 2-19 had obesity, with their rate at 22.8 percent; 22 percent of Black children ages 2-19 has obesity; and White children ages 2-19 had the lowest prevalence of obesity compared to Blacks and Latinos, with their rates at 14.1 percent. When it came to adult obesity rates, Latino adults had remarkably higher rates of obesity compared to Whites, with rates at 47 percent; almost half of Black adults nationwide has obesity, with a rate of 46.8 percent; White adults has the lowest prevalence at a rate of 37.9 percent. Compared to any other racial or ethnic group, Asian Americans has the lowest obesity rates with their adult rates at 12.7 percent and children ages 2-19 are at 11 percent. There are also age and gender disparities when it comes to obesity. Boys are more likely to have obesity than girls; among adults, women have slightly higher levels of obesity than men; and middle-age and older adults are more likely to be obese.
Currently, high obesity rates continue to give rise to major public health challenges all over the world, especially in the state of Mississippi. We chose to particularly focus on obesity rates in Mississippi because this state consistently top the list of states with the highest rate of both adult and child obesity. They are ranked number two in the nation of the highest obesity rate for adults and is ranked third highest for youth ages 10-17. Their increase over the years is alarming. Their obesity rate was 15 percent in 1990, 23.7 percent on 2000, and is currently 37.3 percent. Their rates are expected to increase exponentially in the next 20 years, with a possible rate of 66.7 percent in 2030. Within this state, ages 45-64 were more likely to be obese compared to any other age. When it came to race, Blacks had the highest prevalence rate at 45.4 percent. Lastly, women has a slightly higher rate of obesity than men. Annually, Mississippi spends $147 billion to $210 billion on health care costs, which is 21 percent of the total national health care spending (Mississippi Action Plan, n.d.). It was reported that the medical costs of people with obesity is $2,741 higher than those of normal weight. If trends continue, these costs could rise by $43 to $66 billion each year in the U.S. by 2030.
To attack this epidemic, we have to start with the healthcare system, a system that has a mindset of treatment of the ill rather than prevention. It’s important that they shift this mindset, but implementing the preventative approach is easier said than done. It takes time, effective planning, community effort, and money.
- Mississippi Obesity Action Plan. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/resources/6164.pdf
- National Obesity Rates & Trends. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.stateofobesity.org/obesity-rates-trends-overview/
- The Cost of Obesity in America. (2018, March 12). Retrieved from https://publichealthonline.gwu.edu/blog/cost-of-obesity-in-us/
- Salinsky, E., & Scott, W. (2003, July 11). Obesity in America: A Growing Threat. Retrieved from http://nhpf.org/pdfs_bp/BP_Obesity_7-03.pdf
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