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US obesity rates ballooning, says report

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 02-Jul-2009

American obesity rates have increased in 23 states over the past year and decreased in none, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report, entitled ‘F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America 2009’, is potentially important for the food and beverage industry, as it has come under increasing pressure to play a role in tackling obesity. Much of the industry is involved in taking a dual approach, focusing efforts not only on product reformulation to reduce trans fats, saturated fats and sugar, but also on encouraging increased physical activity.

Among other recommendations, the report suggests that the federal government should “work with industry to eliminate junk food advertising to children” and that states should “evaluate current snack taxes.”

Federal target

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has said that it aims to reduce obesity rates to 15 percent in every state before 2010, but the trend is going the other way: In 1991, no state had an obesity rate of over 20 percent – now only one state, Colorado, has a rate below 20 percent, at 18.9 percent. In 1980, the average US obesity rate was 15 percent; now the average is 34.3 percent, and another 32.7 percent are overweight.

Regarding the HHS target, the report said: “Clearly that goal will not be met as all states and D.C. currently exceed 15 percent.”

Obesity rates among children have also climbed, with more than 30 percent now overweight or obese.

The current economic crisis could also be exacerbating the problem, the report claims.

“Food prices, particularly for more nutritious foods, are expected to rise, making it more difficult for families to eat healthy foods,” it said. “In addition, due to the strain of the recession, rates of depression, anxiety and stress, which are linked to obesity for many individuals, also are increasing.”

Obesity can cause heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. In the US it leads to medical spending of about $95 billion a year.

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