Health Care

September 4, 2014

Report indicates adult obesity hitting plateau in SC

South Carolina is dropping in a national poll, and this time it’s a positive thing.

South Carolina is dropping in a national poll, and this time it’s a positive thing.

The state dropped from No. 7 to No. 10 in adult obesity in the latest annual report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That’s still a lousy ranking, but at least it isn’t getting worse – which is similar to the rest of the country.

South Carolina has been fixture in the top 10, rising as high as No. 5 in 2007-2009, in the annual statistics on adult obesity. The report, previously known as “F as in Fat” was rechristened “The State of Obesity” this year because the authors have seen enough progress to quit calling the anti-obesity efforts a failure.

South Carolina’s adult obesity rate actually edged up slightly, from 31.6 percent to 31.7 percent, in 2013, but the study’s authors don’t consider that a statistically significant increase because of the margin of error in the data. Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee all moved ahead of South Carolina in 2013 in terms of adult obesity.

The groups that put together the study said the fact that only six states this year – and only one last year – had a statistically significant increase in adult obesity is an indication the growth of the health problem has slowed. But no states have statistically significant improvements, and adult obesity rates nationally remain much too high at nearly one-third in 2013 compared with less than 15 percent 30 years ago.

“It’s significant that we can talk about progress,” said Ginny Ehrlich, director of the childhood obesity team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “After 10 years of concrete efforts, we’re starting to see rates plateau.”

In South Carolina, adult obesity rates shot from 12 percent in 1990 to 29.2 percent in 2007. Since then, the increase has been more incremental, going up just 2.5 percent in the next six years.

State health leaders in recent years have focused their efforts on childhood obesity, trying to improve school lunch programs and encourage more physical activity. The most recent data in Thursday’s obesity report indicates the efforts might be working, with high school student obesity dropping from 16.7 percent in 2009 to 13 percent last year. That’s still 10th worst among states. Older statistics from 2011 on obesity among 11 to 17-year-olds rank South Carolina as the second worst state in the nation.

DHEC director Catherine Templeton made obesity a priority for the agency two years ago. She also brought together health leaders to discuss programs that are working and hurdles that need to be overcome. Those meetings spawned the S.C. Obesity Council, which has put together a detailed obesity action plan scheduled to be unveiled on Sept. 24.

The plan “mobilizes partners from across the state to implement innovative strategies to address obesity risk factors in the places where South Carolinians live, work, play and learn,” according to DHEC spokesman Mark Plowden. “The action plan not only focuses on long-term solutions, but short-term strategies that we can implement immediately to begin moving the needle on obesity in our state.”

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