Magazine article Aging Today

UCLA Research Reveals Obesity Rates Affected by Environment

Magazine article Aging Today

UCLA Research Reveals Obesity Rates Affected by Environment

Article excerpt

Obesity is a significant risk factor for serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Cynthia Ogden and colleagues found that obesity prevalence among adults in the United States increased dramatically over the past 30 years, from about 15 percent in the 1970s to 32 percent by 2004 (JAMA, 295:13, 2006; The prevalence has not changed significantly since 2004, but rates remain high, according to Ogden in another JAMA article (311: 8, 2014;

The most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that approximately 35 percent of all adults (including those ages 60 and older) were obese in 2011-12. Published in June 2015, a report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research ( uses data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) to examine obesity in California and the neighborhood environmental factors that can contribute to or mitigate obesity risk.

Obesity on the Rise in the Most Populous State

According to CHIS data, the prevalence of adult obesity in California increased by more than 30 percent between 2001 and 2011-12. In 2011-12, 25 percent of adults were obese, a statistically significant increase from 19 percent in 2001. Adults between the ages of 18 and 34 had the lowest prevalence (19 percent) compared to those ages 35 to 49 (28 percent), 50 to 64 (30 percent) and 65 and older (23 percent). Although older adults had a lower obesity rate, the prevalence of obesity among adults ages 65 and older increased from 17 percent to 23 percent between 2001 and 2011-12. And, the highest obesity prevalence was seen among adults ages 50 to 64, adults who will soon be part of the ages 65 and older cohort.

Obesity is a complex condition influenced by behavior, genetics, neighborhood environmental factors, culture and socioeconomic status. CHIS data indicated that adults ages 65 and older had healthier dietary behaviors than their younger counterparts. Only 5 percent of older adults consumed soda one or more times per day compared to 16 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds. Similarly, about one in five older adults consumed fast food two or more times per week compared to nearly half of adults ages 18 to 34. Fruit and vegetable consumption was also higher among older than younger adults (32 percent versus 24 percent).

Exercise, Safety, Fresh Produce and Friendship All Key

Physical activity is associated with the prevention of obesity, chronic conditions and premature death. Walking provides significant health benefits, and is the most common form of physical activity among adults, as well as an important component in overall levels of physical activity. The prevalence of walking was lower among older than younger adults-69 percent of adults ages 65 and older reported walking for at least 10 minutes in the past week, compared to 79 percent of those ages 50 to 64,81 percent of those ages 35 to 49 and 86 percent of those ages 18 to 34.

Neighborhood environments play a critical role in physical activity, healthy eating and obesity. The neighborhood environment influences physical activity and dietary behaviors, and can also impact obesity. Research using CHIS data suggests obesity rates are higher among adults who lack access to affordable produce, live in neighborhoods they feel are unsafe and live in neighborhoods with low levels of social cohesion.

Eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with better health outcomes, but people do not buy fresh produce if they cannot afford it. Obesity prevalence was higher among adults who reported fruits and vegetables were never or only sometimes affordable (31 percent) compared to those who reported always having affordable fresh produce in their neighborhoods (22 percent). …

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