Marquette Wire

Obesity rates reach high levels in WI

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A new study released by the community health advocacy group Trust for America’s Health is warning that 56.3 percent of adult Wisconsinites could be obese or overweight by 2030 if current rates of growth continue.

According to the study and data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27.7 percent of adults in Wisconsin were obese in 2011. The study went on to report that Wisconsin could save 7.4 percent in health care costs if residents’ average body mass index was lowered by 5 percent, a number equal to roughly $11.9 billion by 2030.

The number of Wisconsin residents who could be spared from developing new cases of major obesity-related diseases includes, according to the study: 147,935 people from type two diabetes, 123,717 from coronary heart disease and stroke, 114,692 from hypertension, 6,542 from arthritis and 7,882 from obesity-related cancer.

Marilyn Frenn, a Marquette associate professor of nursing, said the rising obesity rate is a problem and national intervention will not occur without proper legislation.

It takes will to initiate such a plan,” Frenn said in an email. “Unfortunately there is more investment in political slogans, e.g. ‘nanny state’, and in thinking it is someone else’s problem, than there is investment in understanding the issues involved and working together to create a solution.”

Frenn said a multi-faceted approach was needed to educate people of all ages. At home, she said parents should be given information on how to effectively help children learn healthy nutrition and exercise behaviors. While at school, help is needed to help children learn what kinds and amounts of foods are best for them. Despite budget cuts, time for physical activity and active play need to remain a part of school days, and blame has to be shifted away from individuals in order to realize that obesity is a national epidemic.

Paula Papanek, an associate professor of physical therapy, agreed with Frenn but stressed that the obesity problem was not something that happened overnight, and in turn the solution would not be easy to come by.

If I really had that answer (a solution to the obesity probelm), I would probably have won a Nobel Prize by now,” Papanek said in an email. “I think we need to realize that healthy kids come from healthy families and healthy families from healthy communities and schools. This didn’t happen overnight, but we have been watching this emerge as a tidal wave for over 25 years and it isn’t going to go away overnight either.”

Frenn said, more than 35 percent of teens who are of typical weight will become overweight or obese as adults and 80 percent of children overweight aged 10 to 15 will be obese by age 25.  Because of the many health problems associated with being overweight, the longer exposure teens have to obesity may mean an earlier onset of these problems, along with the associated heath care costs.

Olga Yakusheva, an associate professor of economics, said the increasing obesity rate can be attributed to a diet based heavily on low fat, high sugar goods.

“Fat was always thought of as the culprit,” Yakusheva said in an email. “Over the course of the last several decades Americans significantly cut down on fat, yet obesity rates are skyrocketing. Scientists now believe that it was never fat in the first place; it was sugar.”

Yakusheva said exercise is the most important way to lose weight.

A new rule of thumb that is now emerging is to earn your couch time with physical activity at least two to one,” Yakusheva said. “If you want to watch TV for an hour, go for a half an hour long walk. And cut out as much sugar from you diet as you can.”

Yakusheva said she doesn’t believe there is a legislative solution to obesity, noting that research shows forcing people to exercise or eat better produces little in the way of real results. 

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