published Monday, July 5th, 2010

Tennessee, Alabama among fattest states

Fattest states

1. Mississippi, 33.8 percent of all adults

2. (tie) Tennessee, 31.6 percent of all adults

2. (tie) Alabama, 31.6 percent of all adults

4. West Virginia, 31.3 percent of all adults

5. Louisiana, 31.2 percent of all adults

Sources: Trust for Health, Robert Woods Johnson Foundation

BY THE NUMBERS

Tennessee

* 68.2 percent: Adults who are either overweight or obese

* 10.8 percent: Adults with diabetes

* 30.5 percent: Adults who lack adequate physical activity

* 32.5 percent: Adults with hypertension

* 14.9 percent: Adults in poverty

Georgia

* 65 percent: Adults who are overweight or obese

* 9.8 percent: Adults who have diabetes

* 24 percent: Adults who are physically inactive

* 29.5 percent: Adults with hypertension

* 13.9 percent: Adults in poverty

Sources: Trust for Health, Robert Woods Johnson Foundation

Tennessee and Alabama are behind only Mississippi as the fattest states in the land, while Georgia had the second-highest rate for obesity among those age 10 to 17, a new study shows.

Despite a growing number of programs to tackle obesity, nearly a third of adults in Tennessee and Alabama are overweight enough to be considered obese, according to the seventh annual report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"We tend to be a very inactive state, and Southerners' diet is still heavy on fat and light on fruits and vegetables," said Dr. Gregory Heath, head of the department of health and human performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a member of the Tennessee task force on obesity.

Tennessee also has the highest rate of obese Latinos in the nation, said the study, released last week.

"Many of our fastest-growing communities also are not very pedestrian friendly, which means we tend to walk less and drive our cars more," Dr. Heath said.

Nine of the 10 fattest states are in the South, according to the study, and Southern states also ranked high for diabetes, hypertension and poverty.

The study's authors give Americans an "F for fat" and warn that the country's obesity epidemic seems to be worsening.

Adult obesity rates rose in 28 states over the past year, including a 1.4 percent increase in Tennessee and a 0.2 percent rise in Georgia, the study shows. The number of states with obesity rates above 30 percent doubled from four last year to eight this year.

"The future of health and wealth in this country demands that we approach the obesity epidemic with the seriousness it deserves," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health.

Dr. Robert Mandel, chief medical officer for Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said poverty and obesity appear to be linked. He said too many Tennesseans eat too much and exercise too little.

"It's a very serious problem and one that we at BlueCross, the employers we work with and a growing number of groups are trying to tackle," he said. "It's going to require some long-term changes in our diet and behavior."

Supporters say preventing obesity will lower health care costs.

Hamilton County launched its Step ONE, or Optimize with Nutrition and Exercise program, in 2004 to coordinate its obesity prevention efforts.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department estimated four years ago that obesity resulted in $186 million a year in lost productivity in Hamilton County. Being obese makes a person three times as likely to suffer a heart attack and 100 times as likely to suffer from adult diabetes, health officials say.

"Hopefully, with all of our local initiatives, we will be able to bring down these alarmingly high rates over time," said Bill Ulmer, director for community health services at the health department.

"The obesity epidemic can't be reversed in a year or two or even three or four years. It's a long fight, but I think we've begun to level off the growth in obesity in our community, and hopefully we can bring it down over time."

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