A study released Tuesday by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) found that adult obesity rates increased in 37 states in the past year, with 11 of the 15 highest obesity rates coming from southern states. No states saw a decrease.
The fifth annual F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America, 2008 report shows obesity rates rising for the second consecutive year in 24 states and for a third consecutive year in 19 states. In an exclusive interview with QSR, TFAH’s Executive Director, Jeff Levi, says ending the epidemic requires collective efforts from every part of society. “For restaurants, it’s how can we best help people make healthier choices,” he says. “Some of that has to do with the ingredients that restaurant owners choose to use, but also giving the diners the information they need to make healthier choices.”

Levi, who supports menu-labeling measures, says the No. 1 offender in the foodservice industry is large portion sizes. “When we eat out, we tend to eat more because it’s a special occasion, but if we don’t know how much we’re consuming then there’s no way to balance that out later,” he says.

The report also says many state and federal policies aimed at reducing or preventing obesity lack comprehensive approaches. For example, while the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were updated in 2005, the USDA school meal program has yet to adopt the recommendations.

In addition to federal changes, the report spotlights the high rates of obesity in the South. Mississippi, with the highest rating (31.7 percent), has nearly double the percentage of obese adults as Colorado, which ranked last place with 18.4 percent. According to Levi, the difference is not so much attributed to regional taste preferences, as it is to higher poverty rates in the South. “People who are poor eat calorie-dense food, which is less expensive,” he says. “That’s a solution that may be beyond the restaurant industry.”

The report advises setting a national goal of reversing the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015. Some of the key policy recommendations it makes are: improving the nutritional quality of food available in schools, improving access to affordable nutritious food, and eliminating the marketing of junk food to children.

To see how each state ranks, visit the TFAH’s Web site.

–Blair Chancey

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