Obesity rates remain at staggering heights across the country and a study released Tuesday said about half of all adults in the United States could be obese by 2030 if the trend continues.
South Carolina was the eighth worst state in 2011 with 30.8 percent of adults are reportedly obese, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study called F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens Americas Future, released by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), said the rate could climb to 62.9 percent by 2030.
That means a higher risk for diseases like diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension, arthritis and cancer. It also means higher health care costs.
Despite the numbers, Dwayne Proctor with RWJF said there’s hope.
“There are reasons for optimism,” he said. “In areas where the emphasis has been on taking care of childhood obesity we’re seeing decreases.”
Many sites where decreases were found were metropolitan areas like New York, NY and Philadelphia, Penn., but Mississippi also saw about a 6 percent decrease in obesity of all public school elementary students.
“We’re ecstatic because that’s Mississippi,” Proctor said. “Mississippi is always ranked low.”
The improvements in Mississippi are exciting because they could be replicated in places like South Carolina, said Jeff Levi, executive director for TFAH.
“Maybe the most hopeful [finding] isn’t just that the modeling shows that if we do better we could save lives, but also that in communities across the country there are really good things happening that can make a difference,” Levi said. “It’s a matter of continuing in that direction.
At the current rate, South Carolinians could pay 12.6 percent more for obesity-related health care costs -- in part because more people would be at risk for diseases and could require medical treatment.
“The health care costs of individuals living in states are affected by how many people are using health care for particular reasons,” Proctor said. “If you have a situation like we do in Philadelphia where there’s been a 5 percent decrease in childhood obesity, you’re expecting the children to be healthy and won’t require as much treatment.”
That would likely translate to lower health care costs, along with a healthier population.
“States are grappling with budgets,” Proctor said. “This could make a difference.”
Sherer Royce, associate professor of health promotion for Coastal Carolina University, said Horry County with a 24 percent obesity rate is better than the state and national average though things aren’t a good as they can be according to data from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“We’re not an active community which is disappointing because for 10 months of the year weather-wise as a state where we could be outside doing things, but we’re not very active.”
Royce is part of the Eat Smart Move More of Horry County, a branch of a statewide initiative.
“The problem in Horry County is great enough to warrant a coalition of committed organizations to look at ways that we can improve healthy lifestyles in the community,” she said.
Small changes by people and policy changes by local, state and national leaders could lead to drops in obesity rates.
The study suggested a lowering of the Body Mass Index (BMI) by 5 percent, which would be about 10 pounds for a 6 foot tall, 200 pound person. That would lend to a 7.4 percent decrease in health care costs, or savings of about $9.3 billion dollars by 2030, the study said.
Getting there could require policy change, but Royce said that doesn’t have to mean more government.
The changes, Royce said, could be simple like offering healthier options in vending machines or putting grocery stores or famer’s markets in convenient locations. Encouraging walking by building “complete streets,” where roads are safe for both vehicle and foot traffic, could also help.
“We want to see that we create environments and infrastructure that supports people when they make the decision and say, ‘OK I’m going to start exercising. I’m going to be active,’” Royce said.
Conway is one of those places that encourage complete streets, Royce said. Sidewalks and bike paths are already part of most Myrtle Beach streets and are part of a three-year construction project at Third Avenue South that started Monday.
“This is not about government sitting at your dining room table saying what you can and can’t eat,” Levi said. “It’s more about saying the healthy choice is the easy choice.”
People shouldn’t have to search for healthy foods and they shouldn’t have to buy gym memberships, Proctor said.
“They should have the ability to live healthy in their communities,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to be rich to be able to afford things.”
A Cultural Issue?
The most obese states are in the south and Midwest. All 10 states with the highest rates of type 2 diabetes and hypertension are in the south, including South Carolina which is No. 3 in diabetes and No. 7 in hypertension.
“Southern culture has delicious foods that aren’t good for you,” Proctor said. “Maybe they shouldn’t be eaten every day.”
But Proctor isn’t convinced that Southern food is the culprit.
“Years ago that may have been the case,” he said. “But when you see the reduction in Mississippi it’s not cultural. People want to live healthy, long lives and they want to see their children live healthy, long lives.”
Royce said the causes can be pretty complex. It could be a lack of education where people don’t know how to eat healthfully, or how to prepare healthy meals.
Some may not have access to healthy foods, and others may simply not think about it.
“Eating right might not be at the top of people’s minds,” she said. “They may be worrying about keeping their roof over their heads which complicates the equation even more.”
The 5 percent reduction in BMI was selected because it’s an achievable goal and would make an impact, Levi said, but it wouldn’t be the end of the epidemic.See the full study by visiting healthyamericans.org or rwjf.org.
Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.