More than half of Iowans will be obese by 2030, with a corresponding increase in chronic disease and health care costs unless current trends are stopped, according to a report released today.
“It’s really mind-boggling,” said Katie Tharp, clinical assistant professor at the University of Iowa College Public Health.
“We just keep hoping some of our efforts will have an impact,” said Cathy Lillehoj, research analyst with the Iowa Department of Public Health. “Just keep plugging away at the problem, and hope we can have an impact.”
The report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation says 54 percent of Iowans will be obese in 18 years absent a significant change in diet and exercise habits. That would rank the state 31st in obesity in 2030, but it’s a higher obesity rate than the nation’s current fattest state, Mississippi (35 percent).
About 29 percent of Iowans were obese - defined as having a body-mass index of 30 or higher – last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 36 percent are overweight, with an index of 25 to 30.
The study offers an achievable goal: Iowa would save 7.1 percent in health care costs, or $5.7 billion, if state residents lowered their body-mass index by 5 percent. That’s the rough equivalent of a 10-pound loss for a six-foot-tall person weighing 200 pounds.
“The critical piece is not that people know they should be engaging in more physical activity or making healthier food choices it’s whether their environment is supporting them in making those decisions,” said Stephanie Neff, deputy director of Linn County Public Health. Neff also chairs the advisory team for Cedar Rapids’ Blue Zone initiative aimed at improving the city’s and state’s health.
Those efforts emphasize healthier eating and exercise for all ages, but anti-obesity steps aimed at younger children may be the state’s best chance of improving its overall health, Lillehoj said.
“We didn’t have all these concerted efforts with the people who are adults now,” she said. “We’re trying to have an impact with children, especially younger children. That’s where we have a better shot at having an impact.”
“Preventing someone from becoming obese is a lot easier than treating them after they become obese,” said Tharp, but she warned it will take a more sustained effort to be as successful as anti-smoking campaigns launched in the 1960s.
“Nutrition’s a lot more complicated than tobacco control, but we’re hoping that with all the effort with nutrition and exercise and having healthy environments, that will have a big payoff,” she said.
Other findings from the report:
If Iowa residents indeed reduced their body-mass index by 5 percent, it would spare these new cases of major obesity-related diseases: