NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Tips for fighting obesity epidemic

Obesity is one of the most serious health problems in our country. It leads to such conditions as high blood pressure and high blood sugar that can put people at a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes than those with normal weight.

A nationwide report released Wednesday by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that 33.6 percent of adults in Indiana are obese, the 12th highest rate in the nation. That is alarming news that should prompt not only individuals, but policymakers in our state and throughout the nation as well, to take immediate action.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being overweight or obese is weighing more than what is considered healthy for a given height. The measure of that is body mass index, which, for most people, correlates with their amount of body fat. An adult with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. An adult with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

Overeating may be the primary cause of obesity, but factors other than just an individual’s lack of willpower play roles in the obesity epidemic. Obesity is sometimes caused by biological factors such as genetics and hormones, and some people are predisposed to gaining weight. Changes in lifestyle and behavior can overcome those factors. Eating habits and food culture need to be changed to make obesity rates go down.

“We know that in order to achieve a healthy weight people need to consume healthy foods and be physically active,” John Auerbach, president and CEO of the nonpartisan nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, wrote in the report.

“What we haven’t been able to do is provide all Americans equal access to healthful options and opportunities to exercise. … newly released data show that no less than one in five Americans have obesity in every state in the nation–rates are even higher in black and Latino communities, in neighborhoods where more people have low incomes and in rural areas. Such neighborhoods are likely to be ‘food deserts’ where only unhealthful foods are readily available and affordable. They also are likely to lack accessible and safe places for physical activity.”

The two public health organizations that collaborated on “The State of Obesity” report offered several detailed recommendations to federal, state and local policymakers, food and restaurant sectors, and health care providers and systems “to combat America’s obesity epidemic.”

Here are just a few we think make good sense:

* Support and expand policies and programs aimed at addressing obesity at the federal, state and community level.

* Ensure that every state public health agency receives targeted support to promote healthy eating and active living.

* Maintain and strengthen essential nutrition supports for low-income children, families and individuals.

* Support and implement local school wellness policy rules.

* Expand and evaluate pilots and programs aimed at increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods.

* Issue regular guidance covering programs supported through the Every Student Succeeds Act that encourage healthy eating, opportunities for physical activity, limits on screen time and other activities that promote health.