It’s one ranking Iowans shouldn’t be proud of.
According to a report released last week, 30.4 percent of Iowa adults are obese, making this the 12th fattest state in the nation.
In Louisiana, which earned the unfortunate distinction of being the fattest state, 34.7 percent of adults are obese. Nationwide, the study found 68.7 percent of American adults are either overweight or obese.
The numbers were released in the 2013 “F as in Fat” report, by Trust for America’s Health, a Washington, D.C., not-for-profit organization that conducts research on disease prevention.
The report is based on telephone surveys by state health departments, with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Respondents were asked to report their weight and height, which is used to calculate body mass index. According to Trust for America’s Health, experts note that the rates of people being overweight or obese is probably slightly higher than shown because people “tend to underreport their weight and exaggerate their height.”
Last year, Iowa was ranked the 18th fattest state. However, the rate of obesity in the state has held steady — it was 29 percent last year, said Albert Lang, Trust for America’s Health communications manager.
However, Lang cautioned, “That number has been that way for a little while, and it’s too high. We’ve seen the increasing rate of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and things like that.
“The quality of life for millions of people is just not where it should be, especially given the modern advances in medicine and how we know that we can prevent type 2 diabetes and other chronic issues.”
Health professionals in the Corridor added that the key take-away from the report is less about Iowa’s overall ranking and more about the importance of becoming healthy.
“We have a generation that for the first time … is projected to not live as long as my generation,” said Jeneane Moody, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, a professional association for Iowa’s public health professionals. “That’s the kind of thing we need to be focusing on.”
Moody said her greatest concern arising from the report is the “impact obesity has as a risk factor for chronic disease.”
Three out of every four dollars spent nationally on health care are on chronic diseases that are preventable, she said.
“More interesting to me than the relative rankings … is the trend in the overall country and how much obesity has changed in the last 30 years,” said Ignatius Brady, medical director for occupational health at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids. “It has tripled since the ’70s.
“More important than the relative rank of whether Iowa is a little ahead or a little behind the national trend, what you see is in every single state (is) you’ve sort of kept a pretty similar rank over time. No state has been immune.”
Brady said the national obesity epidemic can be tied to a changing nutrition environment.
“It’s a mistake to think that you should look at, ‘Well, that’s because Iowans do this differently than other people,’ ” Brady said.
The problem stems more from the increase in portion sizes as well as people eating more.
He said obesity isn’t something “you can throw a simple answer to.” Medical professionals need to dig into what people are eating and responsibly control medication.
The report also came with a policy analysis that offers suggestions to prevent obesity. Moody, the Iowa Public Health Association director, stressed the importance of physical activity in and out of school, healthier school foods and beverages and food marketing to children.
“Our children are exposed to all sorts of food marketing, many tactics that come right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook,” she said.
According to Trust for America’s Health in its analysis of food marketing, the food and beverage industry spent $1.79 billion dollars in 2009 to advertise their products to children and adolescents. That same year, there were 2 billion advertisements on children’s websites for food and beverages.
The key to improving health is awareness of healthy food portions and understanding calories, among other issues, said Dr. Prasuna Rao, an endocrinologist at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital who also specializes in diabetes and metabolism. Rao started the Medical Weight Loss Clinic in March.
“A lot of education goes into this program regarding what are calories, what is portion size, education on when you’re in a restaurant, what you need to watch for, when you’re doing groceries, what kinds of things you need to pick so that whatever you cook are low-calorie foods and encouraging exercise,” Rao said.
Brady stressed that while exercising is beneficial to one’s health, it is more important to eat right and avoid unhealthy food to prevent weight gain in the first place.