Idaho obesity rate lower than national average

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Bluntly put, Americans are getting fatter. The good news is, Idaho is bucking the trend.

National statistics released late last week indicate obesity rates in Idaho are better than the U.S. average and have even declined over the past year.

According to Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), 28.4 percent of Idahoans are considered obese. That’s down slightly from last year’s rate and ranks the Gem State at 39th in the nation, ahead of neighboring Washington with an obesity rate of 28.7 percent and Oregon at 29.9 percent. The national average for obesity is 32.2 percent.

The Idaho numbers are encouraging, said Coeur d’Alene registered dietitian nutritionist Libby Hugo. Her advice for those seeking to drop extra pounds: patience.

“I see lots of people looking to lose weight quickly. Rather than jumping into the next fad diet that entices consumers with the promise of fast results which more often than not are unhealthy, I suggest my patients find ways to realistically and practically incorporate healthy lifestyle changes into their lives,” Hugo said.

The dietician said she’s not surprised Idahoans are below the national average in obesity.

“We live in such a place where getting into the outdoors or taking the family to local events and places that focus on increasing physical activity abound,” she said. “And if you haven’t already, start being mindful. So many of us look at food and drink in terms of size rather than nutritional content. Get familiar with food labels.”

Despite the decline in Idaho, national statistics continue to alarm health officials.

As recently as 2012, no state had an adult obesity rate over 35 percent. Within the last five years, 33 states had statistically significant increases in their rates of adult obesity, including nine that surpassed 35 percent, according to TFAH.

TFAH is a public health policy, research and advocacy organization that promotes optimal health for Americans. The agency’s president and CEO, John Auerbach, said the statistics are troublesome and solutions are proving to be elusive.

“This latest data shout that our national obesity crisis is getting worse,” Auerbach said. “They tell us that almost 50 years into the upward curve of obesity rates we haven’t yet found the right mix of programs to stop the epidemic.”

As concerning as the statistics are for adults, the numbers for kids are even more troublesome.

A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted in 2015-16 revealed an increase in child obesity of 85 percent compared with a similar study conducted in 1998-94.

Like nutritionists nationwide, Hugo is also concerned with youth obesity.

“It’s at a younger age that eating habits and physical activity practices are instilled and, so much of the time, continue into adulthood. This makes them much more difficult to amend,” she said.

Health and weight issues are addressed on several fronts at the Coeur d’Alene School District, said Scott Maben, communications director for the district.

“In the past two years, I’ve seen a real push to improve access to fruits and vegetables — not just as a part of school meals, but as healthy snacks throughout the day,” Maben said. “You can’t always get kids to make those choices, but if you make it available and encourage them to take cups of apples or carrot sticks it will make a difference.”

Physical activity is another emphasis within the district, Maben said.

“We offer a lot more programs to elementary kids for fitness, including cross country,” he said. “We have put an emphasis in promoting opportunities for kids to be active and moving in those crucial elementary years.”

Obesity is a growing epidemic with about one in three Americans of all ages — or more than 100 million people — considered obese, the TFAH said in a news release.

And while it’s a challenging endeavor, health officials are cautiously optimistic solutions can be uncovered.

“Creating conditions that allow people to more easily make healthy choices is central to preventing obesity, as is prioritizing investment in those communities most affected by the crisis,” Auerbach said.

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