Nearly 1 in 3 adult Iowans obese, study finds

But in 4 other states, obesity rates dropped since 2014

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Nearly a third of Iowa’s adults are considered obese, an uptick that’s still more or less stable with the recent past but a startling 53 percent higher than 15 years ago, a study issued this month determined.

The study, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health, ranks Iowa’s adult obesity rate the 12th worst in the nation.

In 2000, Iowa’s rate was about 1 in 5, not the roughly 1 in 3 it is now.

But Iowa isn’t alone.

More than 25 states have an adult obesity rate of 30 percent or higher, according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report.

Nine of the 11 states with the nation’s highest rates are in the South. Four have rates exceeding 35 percent: Louisiana (36.2) as well as Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia (all at 35.6).


But behind the dark clouds are some silver linings, said Giridhar Mallya, a policy expert at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“The stabilization we’ve seen seems to be continuing, which is an encouraging sign,” he said. “Four states saw a decline, which shows us efforts are starting to work.”

Minnesota, Montana, New York and Ohio all saw declines, the report said. With the exception of increases in Kansas and Kentucky, other state remained somewhat stable between 2014 and 2015.

In Iowa, blacks (35.4 percent) and Latinos (34 percent) had higher obesity rates than whites (31.6 percent), the report said. And men (31.6) had higher rates than women (29.4 percent).

That’s pretty consistent with nationwide trends, Mallya said.

Ethnic and racial minorities often deal with economic disparities, he said, and people with lower incomes have higher rates of obesity.

I’s important to improve access to healthy, affordable foods and safe places for physical activity, he said.

“We need to devote more resources to groups with the highest rates and that have seen the least amount of improvement,” he said.

Obesity leads to other health complications, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

In Iowa, for example, 30.6 percent of adults — or 636,409 cases — in 2015 had hypertension.

What’s more, if the current pace continues, the organizations project that by 2030 there will be 367,691 cases of diabetes, 765,455 cases of hypertension and 857,998 cases of heart disease in Iowa.

The country spends $150 billion a year treating health conditions relating to obesity from diabetes to liver problems, Mallya said.

So it’s important to focus efforts on children to prevent that. Childhood obesity has tripled in the past 25 years, and the number of childhood diabetes cases have skyrocketed.

“We used to call that adult-onset diabetes,” he said.

“There needs to be a comprehensive approach from parents, schools and policy makers to change behaviors and environments,” he said.

As a screening tool for obesity, health care providers look at the correlation between a person’s height and weight to arrive at a body mass index (BMI). Using that indicator, a person who is 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds could be more than just overweight and in the lowest stage of obesity, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculator.

However, individuals vary. A high body mass index might not mean excess fat on some people.

So a diagnosis should be made by a trained health care provider.

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