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Published September 18, 2012, 11:32 PM

More than a quarter of North Dakota, Minnesota's populations obese

States could see more than half their populations be obese by 2030 if trends continue
FARGO – The adult obesity rate in North Dakota would almost double to 57.1 percent and Minnesota’s would balloon to 54.7 percent by 2030 if current trends continue unabated.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – The adult obesity rate in North Dakota would almost double to 57.1 percent and Minnesota’s would balloon to 54.7 percent by 2030 if current trends continue unabated.

Those predictions were released in a national report Tuesday warning that the nation’s bulging waistline is a growing health crisis that calls for a broad spectrum of preventive steps.

If enough people heed warnings, the nation could see a healthier population in 2030 and lower health costs, giving rise to the study’s theme, “two futures for America’s health.”

A modest weight loss, for instance, can add up to significant savings, according to the study by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

If adults would reduce their body mass index, a ratio of weight to height, by 5 percent – about 10 pounds for someone standing 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds – it would enable many states to drastically reduce health care costs.

North Dakota, which now has an adult obesity rate of 27.8 percent, could save 7.2 percent in health care costs, which would total savings of $1.1 billion by 2030, according to the study.

In Minnesota, a 5 percent reduction in body mass index would translate into a savings of 7.3 percent, totaling $11.6 billion by 2030. Minnesota’s adult obesity rate now is 25.7 percent.

The future is even more sobering for 13 states that could see adult obesity rates topping 60 percent if current trends continue. Mississippi could have the highest obesity rate, 66.7 percent.

But even the state projected to have the lowest obesity rate, Colorado, would see a rate of 44.8 percent, more than double its 20.7 percent rate from 20 years ago.

“That’s pretty scary,” said Richard Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America’s Health, one of the study’s partners.

Nationally, obesity rates in the United States have risen markedly since the 1980s. “It’s been a pretty uninterrupted trajectory,” Hamburg said.

Experts cite a host of reasons, all of which can add up to: “Adults and kids are less active and eating more than they were 20 or 30 years ago,” Hamburg said.

The underlying reasons, according to health advocates, can range from suburban sprawl, which means fewer people walk to work or school, to increased consumption of fatty foods, sweets and sweetened soft drinks.

Average daily caloric intake is up more than 300 calories since 1985 and more than 600 since 1970, Hamburg said.

“The numbers are pretty staggering,” he said.

Also, in poorer neighborhoods and communities, people can find themselves in “food deserts” lacking access to affordable, healthy food choices, Hamburg said.

The key to turning around the nation’s obesity epidemic and associated health crisis, experts agree, is: “Make healthy choices easy choices.”

That’s the mantra of the Cass Clay Healthy People Initiative, launched three years ago with the goal of reducing the Fargo-Moorhead obesity rate by 20 percent by 2030, twice the national goal.

To do that, the initiative and its partners are working to improve access to public, active places, including parks and trails, as well as healthy eating choices.

Similarly, the city of Fargo’s Go2030 initiative includes health goals, said Kim Lipetzky, a nutritionist with Fargo Cass Public Health.

It’s trying to see whether gyms and other indoor facilities can expand hours, for example, and expand recreation trails or maintain them so they can operate year-round, she said.

“We’re going to inventory what we have here,” she said.

An encouraging early sign: Data from Fargo-Moorhead clinics indicate that the obesity rate has dipped for girls in all age categories up to age 19, and for boys up to age 12, said Rory Beil, director of the Cass Clay Healthy People Initiative.

That could be the first decline in 25 or 30 years, Beil said, but hastened to add that it will take one or two more years to show whether the dip is the beginning of a trend.

“We’d like to think we can change the trend lines that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is projecting,” Beil said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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