HEALTH

Obesity Rates Continue to Climb

By Briana Vannozzi
Correspondent

One quarter of all New Jersey residents are facing a health problem so severe, it’s been deemed an epidemic — obesity. It seems it’s not just the population that’s growing in the Garden State, but our waist size too.

“Our obesity rates have doubled in the last 20 years. So in one generation you see a remarkable increase,” said Dr. Marc Klapholz.

A new report, called The State of Obesity issued by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows some improvement in our national rates, but they continue to climb.

New Jersey has the 11th lowest obesity rate at 25.6 percent. But 25 states in the union have rates at or above 30 percent for adults and Louisiana is the highest with 36.2 percent.

“As obesity rates go so go the rates for diabetes, hypertension, coronary disease, stroke. All of these have a significant impact on health care costs in the country, but more than that have a significant impact on individual lives and people’s lost productivity,” Klapholz said.

Klapholz says what’s striking is that not long ago — in 1991 — not a single state had a rate above 20 percent.

“We have higher calorie foods in our general diet, less physical activity so our obesity rates have increased,” he said.

“It really is not just the foods that you put in your mouth, but it’s what’s available to you. Do you live in an area that you can get healthy foods? Do you live in an area that has safe physical activity? Are you encouraged to follow preventative measures for yourself when you’re pregnant and for your children so they don’t have to combat obesity as they get older?” asked Peggy Policastro.

Policastro, director of behavioral nutrition at Rutgers Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, says environment plays a big role. That’s why we see pockets of low income and minority communities disproportionately affected.

“If we’re looking to prevent further obesity, we really want to target young children and even pregnant moms,” she said.

The rate for New Jersey’s toddlers — ages 2 to 4 years old — has gone up to a striking 16.6 percent. But there’s a silver lining, according to the report. New Jersey teens age 10 to 17 have had a decline in the obesity rate to 10 percent.

“We know the activity level, especially in our kids, does not seem to be increasing — with the increase in video watching, computer games — I think some of the message of nutrition is starting to get through,” said Sue Shapses, director of the New Jersey Obesity Group at Rutgers University.

Experts’ advice? Eat together as a family and eat healthy. Your behavior is a model for your kids and good habits last a lifetime.