DANVILLE — Recent polls have found that over one in four of Pennsylvanians are considered obese.
“There are other states that are higher, but we are higher than the average,” said Dr. Christopher Still, Geisinger Medical Center’s medical director for the Center of Nutrition and Weight Management.
Currently, 28 percent of Pennsylvanians have a body mass index of over 30 according to the Gallup obesity poll. “That’s a huge proportion of the population,” said Still. A BMI rating of over 30 constitutes class one obesity. A person at an appropriate body weight usually has a BMI rating of 18 to 25, said Still, while a BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight.
“If you’re saying 28 percent of the population has a BMI of 30 or greater, that’s a bit deal for a variety of reasons,” said Still. While there is a decreased quality of life that comes along with being obese, it also leaves a person with a higher risk of developing health complications such as diabetes.
While Pennsylvania wasn’t in the top 10 obese states, it was right on the cusp. Arkansas and Ohio were at the bottom of the top 10, both with 28.6 percent, weighing in heavier than Pennsylvanians by only a fraction of a percentage. The state with the highest rate of obesity was Mississippi, at 32 percent.
Obesity “has reached epidemic proportions,” said Still, and rates have “been steadily growing for years, especially since the 1970s.” In addition, according to a study conducted by the group Trust for America’s health, Pennsylvania’s obesity rates can climb as high as 56 percent by 2030 if serious changes are not made.
“Our energy expenditure or physical activity has gone down over the last 25 years,” said Still. “What’s disturbing is that children and adolescents are going up quicker than adults,” and they have a greater chance of maintaining that weight once they reach adulthood.
“It’s a huge problem, and it’s not unfortunately getting any better in Pennsylvania,” said Still.
“We all have to take responsibility that this is a disease, not a lifestyle,” said Still. Metabolic syndromes exist for obesity as well as physiological ones, he said. In the last six months, two medications for obesity have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These weight loss medications, known as Qsymia and Belviq, are the first approved in 13 years, said Still.
In addition, people can also decrease the fat content of their diet, which should not include more than 40 grams of fat per day, and cut out sources of empty calories such as sodas and fruit beverages. Thirty minutes of physical activity a day, even if it’s divided up into small increments, is also recommended, said Still.
Combating obesity needs to happen early in life. “It has to start in the younger children, which we at Geisinger have tried to do,” said Still. Geisinger has been sending information on nutrition home with school children for them to share with their parents. The idea is to get them to start talking to their parents about trying to eat more healthy foods.
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