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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, August 27, 2007

Mass. adults second-leanest, but youth overweight rates rank in the middle

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

Massachusetts adults are the second-leanest in the country, according to a report released today, but the state's younger residents rank in the middle on the overweight scale.

The adult obesity rate was 19.8 percent, placing the state higher than only Colorado. For children age 10 to 17, the rate of being overweight was 13.6 percent, or 27th highest on the national list in the fourth annual "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America, 2007" from the Trust for America's Health. Almost a third of American adults are obese, it said.

The report, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is based on data that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gathered from 2004 through 2006. Children are considered overweight if they are at or above the 95th percentile of body mass index for their age. Adults fall into the obese category if their BMI is 30 or above.

Adult obesity climbed in 31 states last year, including a gain of 1.2 percentage points in Massachusetts, which was also among 22 states that saw increases for two years in a row. In no state did obesity decline.

There's nothing surprising about the trends going upward, obesity specialist Dr. David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston said in an interview.

The difference between adults and youths may reflect the makeup of the population, with obesity being more prevalent among certain economic, social and ethnic groups, he said, but the rising trend among all segments is more important.

"The obesity epidemic continues to escalate," he said. "Even if we were to see a leveling off, especially with children, the full impact of the epidemic will not be felt for some time to come."

Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other serious complications are showing up in children now, which will translate into shorter life expectancy in the United States for the first time since the Civil War, he said, citing a paper he wrote two years ago. Ludwig was not involved in the report released today.

Mississippi's 30.6 percent adult obesity rate was the highest and Colorado's 17.6 percent was the lowest. For youths, the highest rate of 22.8 percent was found in Washington, D.C., and the lowest was 8.5 percent in Utah. For both children and adults, the highest rates of overweight were found in the South.

But Massachusetts isn't far behind, Ludwig said.

"Rather than focus on which state is winning the race, so to speak, the state-to-state variations are from my perspective less important than the overall more remarkable finding of this increase in obesity among adults and children everywhere," he said.

The report tracked policies in schools to encourage better nutrition and more physical activity. Massachusetts is not among the 17 states whose school lunches, breakfasts and snacks must meet higher standards than required by federal guidelines. The state is also not one of the 22 that have rules for other food sold in schools, from vending machines to bakes sales. But Massachusetts does send home fitness assessments about students, among 16 states to do so.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:00 AM
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