FROM THE GRIO — Obesity rates in the United States remain unacceptably high, and the epidemic persists in affecting Blacks and Hispanics disproportionately. This is abundantly clear in an annual report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health entitled F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future.
For the first time, this year’s report examined how the obesity epidemic could impact our future 20 years from now. Ironically, this forecast has made me reflect on the past.
Thirty years ago, I lived in Philadelphia and was an instructor at Temple University. After a long day of teaching, I remember heading home with my daughter, who was a preschooler at the time. My office looked down North Broad Street, which ran through some of the worst urban blight of any American city in the past several decades.
We wanted to pick up a few items for dinner, but couldn’t find a grocery store or supermarket with the fresh fruit, produce and other healthy foods we were accustomed to eating. About 20,000 people — mostly poor, mostly African-American and Hispanic — lived in that neighborhood and had to cope with this type of disadvantage on a daily basis. What I didn’t know then was that Philadelphia was a microcosm of how policies and environments affect diets, obesity, and health.
At that time, obesity was not on the radar as a major public health concern, and state obesity rates looked tame compared with what we see today. In 1995, Mississippi had an adult obesity rate of 19.4 percent, and Colorado had the lowest rate, 13.9 percent. According to the latest data, Colorado still has the lowest rate, but it has climbed to 20.7 percent. I don’t think we could have imagined it in 1995, but the lowest rate today is higher than the highest rate back then. That’s why it’s so important for us to look ahead to 2030 and try to chart a better course.
The new analysis in this year’s report shows that if obesity rates continue on their current trajectory, it’s estimated that by 2030 adult obesity rates could reach or exceed 44 percent in every state — and could exceed 60 percent in 13 states. If so, new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and arthritis could skyrocket. Obesity-related health care costs could increase by more than 10 percent in 43 states and by more than 20 percent in nine states.
On the other hand, the analysis also shows that if the average adult body mass index (BMI) was decreased by only 5 percent in each state, we could spare millions of Americans from serious health problems and save billions of dollars in health care spending — between 6.5 percent and 7.8 percent in costs in almost every state. By 2030, this could equate to savings ranging from $1.1 billion in Wyoming to $81.7 billion in California.