ROCHESTER — The rate of obesity continues to climb in Minnesota, according to an announcement by the Minnesota Department of Health. The department placed blame on sugary beverages and sedentary lives.

The obesity rate climbed nearly two percentage points among Minnesotans over the past calendar year, from 28.4% in 2017 to 30.1% in 2018. The state drew the new figures from Centers for Disease Control findings also released on Thursday, Sept. 12, and the data outlining adult obesity prevalence now place Minnesota in a more-obese cohort.

Minnesota joins the 22 states with 30-35 percent of the adult population classified as obese, a group including Wisconsin and South Dakota, sharing the second highest tier in obesity prevalence as organized by the CDC. Eighteen predominantly western and far northeastern states have fewer than 30 percent of adults classified as obese. Just nine states, including North Dakota, Iowa and its neighbors southward to the Gulf Coast, have more than 35 percent of the population classified as obese.

"Obesity is more than just a health concern for individual Minnesotans — it's a major challenge for the entire state," said state health commission Jan Malcolm in a statement. "Addressing this challenge requires an individual and community-level response, including smart changes to our food and physical environments."

Obesity is defined as a Body Mass Index of 30 or above. At 5',10" you are considered obese if your weight surpasses 209 pounds, for example, and at six feet, the cutoff for obesity begins at 221 pounds. But BMI is a surrogate measurement, one derived from life insurance tables measuring the normal distribution of body sizes and is generally considered an imperfect tool for determining health outcomes.

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According to the CDC BMI as a surrogate for obesity is limited by its inability to distinguish between body fat and lean body mass, resulting in athletes routinely scoring BMI's in the overweight and obese range. An alternative metric considered more clarifying for obesity and health outcomes is waist circumference, one in which a waist of 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women are associated with higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, many cancers and hypertension.

Because those conditions are believed to be secondary to metabolic syndrome, the campaign against obesity is slowly shifting towards diabetes and attendant health problems that make up the lion's share of the $3.2 billion in obesity-related health care costs cited by state officials. In their announcement, state health officials drew attention to The National Diabetes Prevention Program, and the health commissioner singled out sugary drinks as foods of concern.

"Sugary drinks are the largest sources of added sugars in the American diet, and the added calories from sugary drinks are strong associated with weight gain and obesity," Commissioner Malcolm said. Her statement went on to cite inactivity as another factor of concern to health officials.

In 2014 the Center for Science in the Public Interest published a report which concluded that "vending machines on state and local property are stocked primarily with unhealthy products," chiefly, sweetened beverages. The Minnesota Department of Health as well as other state offices do not at this time ban sugary snacks or beverages in their vending machines, and have taken no position on a sugar beverage tax, according to an email from MDH spokesperson Scott Smith.

"But our statewide Health Improvement Partnership program is involved in an initiative focused on providing healthier options in the state capitol complex," Smith replied, and other initiatives included a public health campaign around sugary drinks.

Some critics have implicated dietary sugars and refined carbohydrates as uniquely diabetes-promoting, a message aired at recent hearings to consider the future staffing of the expert panel to form new dietary guidelines, and one reflected in the April 2019 decision of the American Diabetes Association to endorse low-carbohydrate diets as an option for the prevention and control of type 2 diabetes.