Tuesday, August 28, 2007

MN highest in exercise........

Obesity rates continued their climb in 31 states last year and no state showed a decline. In the past few years Minnesota has been in the middle of the pack — but efforts have been made to counteract obesity in Otter Tail County and across the state the past two years.

“Today, schools are mandated to have a school wellness committee in place,” Otter Tail County Public Health Director/CHS Administrator Diane Thorson said. “These committees recommended positive changes in the school settings.”

Thorson said simple changes that have been put in place over the past two years include the availability of water and milk in vending machines and at concession stands, and vegetables, fruit, and dairy products available at concession stands.

Minnesota ranked 27th last year, a gradual improvement from the previous year when the state was in 25th place. North Dakota ranked 18th, which put it among the 20 states with the worst obesity problems; South Dakota ranked 22nd.

The states of Mississippi and Alabama had the highest rates of obesity in 2006. The healthiest states were Colorado and Hawaii.

Otter Tail County Public Health first began looking at the obesity issue in 2002.

“We analyzed the height and weight data collected by schools of students in grades four and eight,” Thorson said, “and then we made recommendations to the schools about changes that could be made in the school setting.”

She said that solving the obesity epidemic will not be easy — for children and adults alike.

“Diet and exercise are the two prescriptions that are ordered to treat this problem,” she said.

“Each of us can start by doing two simple things — eating smaller portions of food and walking for 10 minutes at a time, three times a day. Gradually, we all should have a goal of 20-minute increments of walking.”

The 2006 rankings were released by Trust for America’s Health, a research group that focuses on disease prevention.

Minnesotans led the way when it came to exercise. An estimated 15.4 percent of the state’s residents did not engage an any physical exercise — the lowest rate in the nation. The fact that close to 85 percent of all Minnesotans exercise on a regular basis is good news. Still, the state’s ranking of 27th overall when it comes to the percentage of obese adults is a negative factor.

“Unfortunately, we’re treating obesity more like a mere inconvenience instead of the emergency that it is,” Dr. James Marks said. “I’m happy to be part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to improving health care on a nationwide basis.”

Officials at Trust for America’s Health advocate for the government to play a larger role in preventing obesity. They point out that people who are overweight are at an increased risk for diabetes, heart problems and other chronic diseases that contribute to greater health care costs.

“It’s one of those issues where everyone believes this is an epidemic, but it’s not getting the level of political and policymaker attention that it ought to,” the organization’s executive director Jeffrey Levi said. “Every candidate for president talks about health care reform — but we really need to hone in on the obesity issue as well.”

Levi said we as a country have designed suburban communities where there are no sidewalks for anybody to go out and take a walk. That has to change, he said.

“A lack of exercise is a huge factor in obesity rates,” Levi said. “Our organization found that more than 22 percent of Americans did not engage in any physical activity in the past month. The percentage is greater than 30 percent in four states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.”

Another factor in obesity rates is poverty. The five poorest states were all in the top 10 when it came to obesity rates. An exception to that rule was the District of Columbia and New Mexico. Both had high poverty rates, but also one of the better (healthier) obesity rates among adults.

Officials said the report is not designed to stigmatize states with high obesity rates — but to stir them into action.

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