A national study showing one of three Kansas adults suffers from obesity helped inspire recommendations to contain the crisis that include imposition of a tax on sugary drinks, expansion of access to food stamps and development of exercise as a broader cultural imperative.
The 16th annual study made public Thursday by the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., indicated Kansas' rate of obesity was 34.4% as of 2018, ranking the state 12th worst in the nation. Kansas' rate was slightly worse than the national average of 30.9% in the report financially supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Other states' exposure to adult obesity ranged from a high of 39.5% in West Virginia and Mississippi to the low of 23% in Colorado. Kansas' remaining neighboring states: Missouri, 35%, ninth worst; Oklahoma, 34.8%, 10th worst; and Nebraska, 34.1%, 15th worst.
"These latest data shout that our national obesity crisis is getting worse," said John Auerbach, president of Trust for America’s Health. "They tell us that almost 50 years into the upward curve of obesity rates we haven’t yet found the right mix of programs to stop the epidemic. Isolated programs and calls for lifestyle changes aren't enough."
Kansas' rates of adult obesity in the past five years: 31.3% in 2014, 34.2% in 2015, 31.2% in 2016, 32.4% in 2017 and 34.4% in 2018.
Obesity challenges intensified across the United States since 2012, a point in which no state had an adult rate above 35%. In 2018, the rate was at or above 35% in Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota, Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia.
In the past five years, according to Trust for America's Health, Kansas and 32 other states had statistically significant increases in obesity. The condition is a contributing factor to elevated risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and cancers.
The report said obesity levels were tied to social and economic conditions and people with lower incomes were more at risk. People of color, more likely to live in neighborhoods with less access to healthy foods and physical activity, are at greater risk, the report said.
The trend nationally and in Kansas was for a higher percentage of adult obesity among blacks and Latinos than whites. In Kansas, the rates were 39.3% for blacks, 36.3% for Latinos and 32.1% for whites.
"Our report highlights the fundamental changes that are needed in the social and economic conditions that make it challenging for people to eat healthy foods and get sufficient exercise," Auerbach said.
The organization said obesity rates for children enrolled in Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, declined from 15.9% in 2010 to 13.9% in 2016. The federal program should be expanded to children as old as 6 years of age, the report said.
In addition, Trust for America's Health said local taxes on sugary drinks showed promise as a method of modifying consumer behavior. In Berkeley, Calif., a 1-cent-per-ounce tax reduced consumption of the drinks.