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Kansas One Of Only Two States With Higher Obesity Rates In 2015

Trust For America's Health / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Kansas is one of two states in the country that had an increased rate of obesity in 2015.

One of every three adult Kansans was obese in 2015, ranking the state seventh in the country in an annual report. Kansas also was one of only two states where obesity rates increased from the previous year.

The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America by the nonprofit Trust For America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that Kansas had an adult obesity rate of 34.2 percent in 2015, up from 31.3 percent in 2014, when Kansas ranked 13th. In 1995, just 13.5% of Kansans were obese.

Missouri wasn’t far behind, ranking 10th with an obesity rate of 32.4 percent in 2015, up from 16.9 percent in 1995.

Only Kansas and Kentucky had statistically significant obesity increases among states for 2015. Most remained steady, though rates dropped in four states: Minnesota, Montana, New York and Ohio.

Men and women in Kansas had similar obesity rates, although they varied among racial groups at 42.7 percent for black Kansans, 35.4 percent for Latinos and 31 percent for whites.

Albert Lang, spokesman for Trust for America’s Health, said the growing obesity problem in Kansas is likely to be followed by larger numbers of Kansans with diseases linked to obesity — and larger health care costs.

“With more and more people becoming obese, as we saw in Kansas this year, more and more people are going to end up getting diabetes, hypertension and the other diseases,” he said.

Those other diseases include cancer, heart disease and arthritis. The report projects the number of Kansans with diabetes will increase by half from 2010 levels by 2030. The number of Kansans with hypertension is projected to rise 28 percent over that same time period. Meanwhile, incidence of cancer is projected to more than double, while heart disease cases more than triple.

More than half the country has obesity rates at or above 30 percent, including all of the states that border Kansas except for Colorado at 20.2 percent. Twenty-two of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest.

“Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas — they all have significantly high rates. They’re all above 30 percent,” Lang said. “The troubling thing for Kansas is that those other states did not show increases this year, while Kansas did.”

Not all the news is bad. The number of states where obesity is increasing has dropped over the past decade. Lang said the country also seems to be making progress in the battle against childhood obesity.

“We’re beginning to see across-the-board stabilization or decreases in childhood obesity rates,” he said. “That only is good news for the future adult obesity rate, because we know if we can keep kids at a healthy weight through adolescence and into their teen years, they’re much less likely to be obese when they’re adults.”

Some other findings from the report, now in its 13th year, include:

  • The number of high school students who drink one or more soda a day has dropped by nearly 40 percent since 2007, to around one in five (20.4 percent).
  • The number of high school students who report playing video or computer games three or more hours a day has increased more than 88 percent since 2003, from 22.1 percent to 41.7 percent.
  • More than 29 million children live in “food deserts,” where access to fresh produce and other healthy foods is limited, and more than 15 million children live in “food insecure” households with not enough to eat and limited access to healthy food.
  • Farm-to-School programs now serve more than 42 percent of schools and 23.6 million children.
  • Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., require a minimum amount of time that elementary students must participate in physical education; 14 states and Washington, D.C., require a minimum amount for middle schoolers; and six states require a minimum amount for high schoolers.

The report also includes policy recommendations that include investments in obesity prevention and policies and programs at the early childhood, school and community levels.

Richard Hamburg, interim president and CEO of the Trust For America’s Health, called on policymakers nationwide to take steps to build on this progress.

“Across the country, we need to fully adopt the high-impact strategies recommended by numerous experts. Improving nutrition and increasing activity in early childhood, making healthy choices easier in people’s daily lives and targeting the startling inequities are all key approaches we need to ramp up,” he said.

Bryan Thompson is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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