WEDNESDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- Although Americans are
exercising more, the obesity epidemic continues to expand,
University of Washington researchers report.
Their nine-year study of data from two U.S. health surveys
suggests that physical activity alone is not enough to combat the
"While physical activity has improved noticeably in most counties, obesity has also continued to rise in nearly all counties," said lead researcher Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, from the university's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The obesity problem is directly related to how much Americans
eat, said senior author Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at
the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
"Americans are not doing enough to control what they eat," he said. They still consume more energy than they burn off through exercise, he said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and
obesity contributes to serious chronic illnesses, high medical
costs and premature death.
"We have to face the reality that obesity is affecting our health," Mokdad said. "We need to take care of ourselves by watching what we eat and how much we exercise."
From 2001 to 2009, the percentage of adults meeting
recommendations for physical activity -- 150 minutes of moderate
activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week -- increased in
most counties in the United States, the researchers report July 10
Population Health Metrics.
But the percentage of adults considered obese also increased
significantly. "In some counties, this increase was greater than 15
percentage points," Dwyer-Lindgren said.
There was very little correlation between change in obesity and
change in physical activity, the researchers noted.
Large disparities existed in 2011 between the best- and
worst-performing counties. Less than 20 percent of men were obese
in some counties, while nearly half were obese elsewhere, the
report shows. For women, the gap was even larger -- from less than
20 percent in some places to almost 60 percent in another.
Physical activity also bounced around, ranging from roughly
one-third to about three-quarters, depending on county, for both
men and women.
Big gains in physical activity were seen in counties in
Kentucky, Georgia and Florida, but Kentucky's Lewis County also had
the biggest increase in male obesity -- from about 29 percent in
2001 to about 45 percent in 2009. Western states claimed some of
the most active counties, with residents of Wyoming's Teton County
the most active of all -- with about 78 percent meeting recommended
Six of the eight least active counties were in Mississippi.
Increases in physical activity suggest that many communities
have successfully adopted healthier lifestyles, likely through
policies that promote physical activity, Dwyer-Lindgren said.
It is worth considering how these counties have so dramatically
improved physical activity levels, Dwyer-Lindgren added. Work on
the World Health Organization's Global Burden of Disease project
suggests that 234,000 deaths could be averted through more physical
activity, Dwyer-Lindgren said.
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone
Medical Center in New York City, said it's not surprising exercise
alone hasn't whittled down the nation's burgeoning obesity
"Healthy weight loss is achieved by eating a balanced, healthy diet, ongoing exercise and portion control," she said.
Not that exercise doesn't help. "Cardiovascular and resistance
exercise keeps bones and muscles strong, boosts brain power, amps
up energy levels, turns back the clock on physiological aging [and]
reduces the risk of chronic diseases," she said. Physical activity
also helps to alleviate anxiety, improve glucose control, manage
weight and improve longevity, she noted.
"There is just no down side to exercise," Heller said.
The prevalence of overweight and obesity is in part generated by
an environment replete with processed, fast and junk foods that are
saturated with fat, sugar and sodium and marketed as cheap and
convenient, she said.
Strides have been made to encourage eating fresh, whole foods,
cooking at home and daily physical activity, Heller said. "But we
need to do more," she added.
Dwyer-Lindgren's team used data on about 34,000 adults from the
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-based telephone
survey that covers most counties in the United States, and the
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
For more information on obesity, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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