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Baby steps needed to combat obesity

ALBANY — While improvements are being made in obesity ratings, health officials say there is still a long way to go.

Georgia is now the 20th most obese state in the nation, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2013,” a report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation indicated earlier this month.

On a more regional level, officials say the most recent figures available are from a 2011 survey, which showed that the Southwest Public Health District ranked second in the state with an obesity rating of 33.9 percent, with the South Central Public Health District in Dublin topping the list at 35.6 percent.

“Obesity is something that has been recognized as a problem,” said Remy Hutchins, infectious disease specialist and health promotion coordinator for the Southwest Georgia district. “The Department of Public Health has us focusing on ways (to combat it).”

One way it has been done in Albany, Hutchins said, is through the establishment of community gardens as a way to improve access to healthy foods while education on healthy eating and physical activity remains ongoing.

“We are hoping the steps we are taking are reducing obesity,” Hutchins said. “The new data on the district isn’t out yet, but the mindset is changing.”

Hutchins said the battle has to be fought with baby steps, and being creative with regimens — even if it means getting exercise by walking at the mall or through home videos if an individual doesn’t feel safe jogging in their neighborhood.

“The problem wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight,” she said.

The report shows Georgia’s adult obesity rate to be 29.1 percent. Thirteen states have adult obesity rates above 30 percent, 41 states have rates of at least 25 percent and every state is above 20 percent, the report shows.

“While stable rates of adult obesity may signal prevention efforts are starting to yield some results, the rates remain extremely high,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of TFAH, in a statement on the report’s findings. “Even if the nation holds steady at the current rates, Baby Boomers — who are aging into obesity-related illnesses — and the rapidly rising numbers of extremely obese Americans are already translating into a cost crisis for the health care system and Medicare.”

“In order to decrease obesity and related costs, we must ensure that policies at every level support healthy choices, and we must focus investments on prevention.”

Findings from the report showed that rates vary by age. Georgia’s obesity rate for those 45-to 64-years-old is 34.6 percent. The obesity rate for seniors, those 65 years old and older, in Georgia is 25.4 percent. The obesity rate in Georgia for those aged 18-25 is 16.1 percent.

The rates by gender are now relatively consistent, with Georgia’s obesity rate at 27.7 percent for men and 30.6 percent for women, the report said.

In addition to the latest data showing a stable rate for adult obesity, a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month shows that 18 states, including Georgia, and one U.S. territory experienced a decline in obesity rates among preschool children from low-income families. The report provides state-specific trends in obesity rates among children ages 2 to 4 years who are enrolled in federal health and nutrition programs, such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC).