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Panel Puts Focus on Obesity Causes, Consequences

America is a nation struggling with the issue of weight and the consequences of obesity.

Nearly 69 percent of adults are overweight or obese, with every state reporting that at least 20 percent of the adult population is obese, according to a report by the Trust for America’s Health and another from the Institute of Medicine. More than 31 percent of the country’s children carry extra pounds.

As Americans have gotten heavier, the incidences of diabetes and other chronic illnesses have risen, the IOM says. The estimated cost for treating the illnesses is $190.2 billion.

And while obesity is a national problem, it has a regional flavor. Twenty states in the South and the Midwest have the highest adult obesity rates, with Louisiana leading the country, the reports say.

Obesity also occurs across racial and socioeconomic lines, but data show minority communities, rural residents, people earning less than $25,000 a year and those without high-school diplomas are at higher risk.

Researchers attribute increased obesity among these groups to fewer safe places to walk or play, fewer options for healthier food and drink, and less access to obesity prevention programs.

The NAACP considers child obesity to be a threat to young African-Americans. The civil rights group says obesity “is plaguing African-American populations at a rate that is disproportionately higher than the rest of the country.”

The Institute of Medicine will convene a roundtable of experts on Jan. 7 who will spend the next three years identifying the most effective efforts under way to reverse obesity trends, and the NAACP will be represented by Shavon Arline-Bradley, the organization’s health programs director.

Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, will speak to the panel on Tuesday and is expected note the challenges people face in changing habits in places where their alternatives are limited.

“There are lots of situations where there really isn’t choice, and so we have to create that healthier choice,” Levi said. “A lot of what we’re talking about here is changing social environment so people feel reinforced in making those healthier choices.”

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