Obesity is on the rise in Ohio, and at the present pace the adult obesity rate could reach nearly 60 percent by 2030, according to a recent study by the non-profit, non-partisan Trust for America's Health organization. The study also indicates the state's obesity-related health care costs could climb by 15.2 percent in the same time period.
But the Buckeye State is not alone. More focus on the nation's growing obesity problem was the idea behind last week's move by the American Medical Association declaring obesity to be a disease.
"Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans," said AMA board member Patrice Harris, M.D. "The AMA is committed to improving health outcomes and is working to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which are often linked to obesity."
But some local folks disagree with treating obesity as a disease.
"It's not a disease-it's controllable," said Meranda Toney, 20, of Marietta. "But some people are just big-boned, and are simply built that way. And I know people who try to lose weight but can't for some physical reason."
She said those people may be overweight, but they should not be labeled as having a disease.
Area obesity stats
Washington County's adult obesity rate is 33 percent.
Noble County's rate is 33 percent.
Morgan County's rate is 36 percent.
Monroe County's rate is 34 percent.
Athens County's rate is 32 percent.
The average adult obesity rate for all of Ohio is 30 percent.
In Washington County, 60 percent of area eateries are fast food restaurants.
Statewide, the average number of fast food restaurants, compared to other eating establishments, is 55 percent.
Source: www.countyhealthrankings. org
Angie Everson, 30, a nursing student from Beverly, said obesity could be considered a symptom of a disease, or it may result from a family's lifestyle.
"A person's parents may have a lifestyle that encourages eating and obesity, and often if the parents are obese it's likely their children will also have the same problem," she said. "But obesity may also be a symptom of a disease like hypothyroidism."
Noah Lauderman, 29, of Marietta agreed obesity is a problem, but calling it a disease isn't doing anything about the issue.
"I like the idea of calling attention to it, but just naming obesity a disease is not really getting at the root of the problem, and that won't fix it," he said. "It's often a symptom of other problems. Maybe that's depression. If you're depressed you can start eating more which causes obesity. But obesity is not the disease."
Beverly resident Jessica Mulherin, 24, agreed.
"Focusing on obesity itself doesn't help-you have to focus on the issues that cause it," she said. "Right now people may say don't eat this or don't eat that when they should be focusing on why someone is eating so much or why they're just sitting around the house. I think obesity indicates a much deeper problem."
But Tuscarawas County resident John McConnell, 76, believes discipline is the solution.
"It's a lack of self control issue for many people," he said. "And it seems like everything that tastes good is bad for you."
McConnell stays in shape by riding his bike or kayaking with friends.
"You have to stay active," he said. "And it might not hurt to ban all soft drinks, high fructose corn syrup, and fast food restaurants."
The AMA has also put its weight behind requiring yearly instruction aimed at preventing obesity for public schoolchildren and teens.
The physicians group agreed to support legislation that would require classes in causes, consequences and prevention of obesity for first through 12th graders. Doctors will be encouraged to volunteer their time to help with that under the new policy adopted on the final day of the AMA's annual policymaking meeting in Chicago last week.
In Ohio health officials also announced last week a new $1 million initiative to fight childhood obesity. Ohio Department of Health officials said the program would pay for education and services in needy communities and build on existing anti-obesity efforts. The state is providing $500,000 in each of the next two years.
More than one-third of the children in the state are overweight or obese. That makes Ohio the 12th worst state for childhood obesity.
The program will include steps to prevent early childhood obesity by coordinating messages around physical activity and nutrition for children younger than 5.
Counties getting the money will work with early childhood education centers, health-care providers and other community partners.
There was some disagreement by AMA members with last week's decision to label obesity a disease, according to a HealthDay News article posted on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' healthfinder.gov web site.
"I have never liked the idea of characterizing obesity as a disease, because disease occurs when the body is malfunctioning," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in the HealthDay article. "Turning surplus calories into a fat reserve is not malfunction, it is normal physiology."
He told the magazine that obesity is largely a societal problem caused by too much food and too little physical activity. While obesity certainly needs to be treated, the aspects of culture that have led to the obesity epidemic need to be changed, he said.
"Obesity is rampant in the modern world not because of changes in our bodies, but because of changes in the modern world. We are drowning in excess calories and labor-saving technologies," he said.
Katz thinks obesity treatments deserve insurance coverage.
Dr. Esa Matius Davis, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, agrees, according to the HealthDay article.
"(T)his decision will bring more resources into the picture because it will, hopefully, allow for more insurance coverage and that really has been the issue of getting people the help that they need," she said.
Obesity affects more than one-third of U.S. adults and almost one in five children, or more than 12 million kids. Recent evidence suggests those numbers may have stabilized, but doctors say that's small consolation when so many people are still too fat.