Study ranks Ala. third most obese state

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A study released Monday conducted by the Trust for America&8217;s Health ranked Alabama as the third most obese state, with all 50 states showing at least a 17 percent rate of obesity. This study shows people across the nation, and particularly in the South, continuing to struggle to overcome the battle of the bulge.

Betsy Adams, director of the Wellness Center at Bryan Whitfield Hospital, attributes the nation&8217;s growing problem to poor lifestyle choices.

Adams said a key component to avoiding weight gain is staying active, no matter what age you are. At the Wellness Center, she said people ages 14 to 90 come in to exercise on a regular basis.

Adams said she also thinks physical education programs are not as strenuous as they once were, and children are exposed to more high-calories fast food.

One solution to combat this, Adams said, is to be aware of portion control. Instead of eating an entire restaurant size meal in one sitting, go ahead and ask your serve to bring a take-out container at the beginning of the meal to take at least some of the meal with you, she said.

For those who are battling weight issues, which 29.4 percent of Alabama&8217;s residents are regarded as obese, the rest of the nation follows suit.

Most of the top 15 states are in the South. Miriam Gaines, nutrition and physical activity director for the State Health Department, sees a need for a regional change in lifestyles.

At first, it appears that Alabama improved because the state slipped from first to third in the rankings, but officials say the state is only gaining slower than others.

No states showed a decline in obesity and waistlines expanded in 31 states last year, according to the trust, a Washington, D.C.-based research group that focuses on disease prevention. It&8217;s the fourth &8220;F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America,&8221; report and the first time its authors looked at rates of overweight children ages 10 to 17.

Alabama fared better in that area, ranking 11th, with 16.7 percent of young people considered obese.

Mississippi came in first in adult obesity for the third straight year, while Colorado continued its reign as the leanest state with an obesity rate projected at 17.6 percent. The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of obese kids &8212; 22.8 percent &8212; and Utah had the lowest percentage with 8.5 percent.

The data was generated from a survey of height and weight taken over the telephone.

Spokeswoman Laura Segal said the organization wants states to look at policies that encourage health and weight loss, such as taxing junk foods and restricting the amount of low-nutrition snacks that are available in schools.

Gaines said the state is seeing more employers with weight-loss incentive programs for workers.

The health department sponsored the Scale Back Alabama weight-loss campaign earlier this year, with American Idol winner Ruben Studdard as its celebrity spokesman. Alabamians lost 78,472 pounds during the inaugural eight-week project and it will be held again next year, Gaines said.

Connie Sobczak, co-founder and director of The Body Positive, said Alabama and the rest of the country won&8217;t see improvements until views change about what it means to be &8220;healthy&8221; and, she said, weight management comes from a position of self-love instead of hate. Weight problems should be addressed on both ends of the scale, she said.

Associated Press writer Desiree Hunter contributed to this report.