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Georgia's growing problem: Obesity rates keep rising
Local health officials say epidemic will cost healthwise and moneywise
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Where we rank
28 Percentage of Georgians considered obese. Georgia ranked 24 among 50 states and Washington, D.C.

62.7 Percentage of Georgians considered overweight and obese. This statistic was not ranked.

10.1 Percentage of Georgians with diabetes. Georgia ranked 18 among 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Source: Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Systems, CDC.

It seems America’s current obesity problem is just the tip of the iceberg, according to a report released last week.

An advocacy group predicts that by 2030, more than half the people in the majority of states will be obese.

The new projections were released Tuesday by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The two organizations regularly report on obesity to raise awareness, and they rely on government figures.

About two-thirds of Americans are currently overweight. That number includes those who have a body mass index over 30, which categorizes them as obese.

The group’s dismal forecast goes beyond the 42 percent national obesity level that federal health officials project by 2030. The group predicts every state would have rates above 44 percent by that time, though it didn’t calculate a national average.

The study reports that 28 percent of adults in Georgia are currently obese. The state ranks in the middle of the country at No. 24.

According to the governor’s office, nearly 40 percent of children ages 10 to 17 in Georgia are considered overweight or obese.

“I think that if you look at the trend it affects everyone,” District 2 Public Health spokesman David Palmer said. “Now there are more children who are obese than there were a decade ago.”

Dr. Chandra Miller, a pediatrician at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, said the report’s figure might be a little elevated and she tends to agree more with the government’s numbers. But, she said, the problem with obesity is definitely not diminishing, in spite of doctors’ best efforts.

“I think that as pediatricians we work very hard and we are very diligent with this,” Miller said.

Miller said she and other doctors frequently advise patients on ways to lose weight and direct them to educational resources and nutritionists to help with the problem.

“When you see the patient that has done better, it’s exciting, but it’s few and far between,” she said.

She said it can be disheartening at times because, even after advising patients and families about the dangers associated with obesity, many come back to the office in the same condition or worse.

She said much of the time parents or caregivers don’t see a problem with their overweight children and don’t take action to prevent serious health problems associated with a lifetime of excess weight.

Those problems include an increased risk for diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and some cancers.

The report predicts that between 2010 and 2020, the number of new cases of Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension and arthritis could increase 10 times. The report said that number will double by 2030.

“The more obese we get, that is going to mean more people with health conditions. And that’s going to drive up health care costs as well because that is going to mean more people are seeking care for the conditions caused by obesity,” Palmer said.

By 2030, medical costs from treating obesity-related diseases are likely to increase by $48 billion to $66 billion per year, the report said.

“It’s definitely going to become a very expensive problem in the future,” Miller said.

However, the report did offer a glimmer of hope if states can lower their average body mass index by 5 percent in the next 20 years. Not only would thousands of people be spared the obesity-related diseases, states could save billions in medical costs, the report said.

If Georgians reduce their BMI by 5 percent, the sate could save around $22.7 billion in health care costs.

But some say the monetary costs aren’t the most staggering statistic in this epidemic.

“This is the first generation that is thought to not be able to outlive their parents,” said Jacob Weiers, school wellness coordinator for Hall County Schools.

He said the obesity epidemic is the result of a “microwave society” where everything from communication, entertainment to food is instant. In his 14-year career as an elementary level physical education teacher, he said he noticed that children seemed to move less, and they seem to have “lost the art of play.”

He said that is why it’s so important to get kids involved in activities and educational programs now.

“Childhood obesity didn’t happen overnight and obesity isn’t going to change overnight,” Weiers said.

And there is no shortage of attempts to encourage a healthier lifestyle. Georgia recently initiated a program to measure students’ health and progress called SHAPE.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the USDA also have programs encouraging healthy habits, as do countless other organizations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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