Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pa.'s Obesity Rates Aren't Budging We're Not Getting Any Leaner, Report Finds

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pa.'s Obesity Rates Aren't Budging We're Not Getting Any Leaner, Report Finds

Article excerpt

Shortly after Karen Hacker took on the job of director of the Allegheny County Health Department, she launched Live Well Allegheny, an initiative to try to improve the health of residents.

If the newest national statistics are any indication, stemming the obesity epidemic needs to be a priority of that effort.

Pennsylvania's adult obesity rate has fluctuated upward to 30 percent of the population since 2012, according to the latest annual report released Thursday by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

As far as percentage of obesity, it tied with Kansas as the 19th worst states in the nation for obesity. The report uses data from 2013 and shows Pennsylvania's obesity rate rose 0.9 percent from the 2012 numbers.

Pennsylvania has the highest obesity rank among states in the Northeast, according to the report, though neighbors in the tri- state area fared even worse. West Virginia tied with Mississippi as the most obese states - 35.1 percent of their populations had a body mass index of 30 or higher, the measure of obesity. Ohio, at 30.4 percent, was tied with Missouri for 16th worst. Colorado was the least obese at 21.3 percent.

Although Pennsylvania's obesity rate moved upward, the amount of increase is not statistically significant enough for the report to consider the state's obesity rate to have risen. It is considered to have stabilized from 2012.

In fact, the numbers have stabilized in all but six states, where they increased - Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming. But the obesity rate did not decline in any states.

"Until we start moving more and think about the quality of the food we're eating, we're not going to reverse this epidemic," Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, said during a teleconference.

The report notes that factors leading to obesity include the inability to obtain healthy, fresh foods and alack of access to safe areas for exercising in certain regions. This is an issue in parts of the Pittsburgh area, such as Clairton, Millvale, McKees Rocks, Stowe, Homewood, the North Side and the Hilltop neighborhood where many residents do not own vehicles and the nearest grocery store is not within walking distance.

The difficulty of obtaining healthy foods combined with the low- income status of residents in these areas forces people to make economically driven decisions leading to poor food choices, said Ken Regal, executive director of the advocacy group Just Harvest. For example, they buy cheap fat- and sugar-laden snacks instead of more expensive fresh fruits and vegetables.

"There's clearly a link," he said. "Where there is more poverty, there is more obesity."

Mr. Regal said Just Harvest implemented a program that allows food stamp recipients to use their benefits at farmers markets. …

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