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The tubby and the trim

Published 7:27 pm, Tuesday, August 20, 2013
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Skinny on obesity
Here are the state's with the five highest and lowest adult obesity rates, according "F as in Fat" from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Connecticut ranked as 13th least obese, with a rate of 25.6 percent.
Five highest
1. Louisiana -- 34.7 percent
2. Mississippi -- 34.6 percent
3. Arkansas -- 34.5 percent
4. West Virginia -- 33.8 percent
5. Alabama -- 33 percent

Five lowest
1. Colorado -- 20.5 percent
2. District of Columbia -- 21.9 percent
3. Massachusetts -- 22.9 percent
4. Hawaii and New York (tie) -- 23.6 percent
5. Vermont -- 23.7 percent
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Though a quarter of Connecticut adults are obese, the state still has one of the lowest tubby rates in the nation, the latest edition of the "F as in Fat" report shows.

The report, from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also shows that obesity rates nationwide might be headed for a decline.

According to the report, 25.6 percent of the state's adults are obese, a teeny bump from last year's 24.5 percent.

The report also named Connecticut the 13th least-obese state in the nation. The fact that the state's rate went up only slightly -- and that most state's rates were almost the same as in last year's report -- is further evidence that the era of skyrocketing obesity rates may be over, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health.

Starting a few years ago, he said, the reports have shown fewer and fewer states reporting significant year-to-year increases, which he said is a positive sign.

"It was too much to hope for that we'd just start seeing a decline," Levi said. "Rates have to stabilize before they can decline."

However, Levi said, "we have a long way to go to get back to where we were."

Obesity is mainly determined by one's body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese and a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight.

Louisiana has the highest obesity rate, at 34.7 percent, according to the study. Colorado had the lowest rate, at 20.5 percent.

About 20 years ago, Connecticut's obesity rate was roughly 10 percent, Levi said. Nationwide in 1991, no state had a rate above 20 percent.

Today, every state is above 20 percent, the report says. Rates are above 30 percent in 13 states, and 41 states have rates of at least 25 percent.

"It's a wonderful thing that obesity has leveled off," said Dr. Steven Kunkes, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation at Bridgeport Hospital. However, he added "it's kind of a shame" that so many states remain above 30.

Dr. Joshua Hrabosky, clinical psychologist at Greenwich Hospital's Weight Loss & Diabetes Center, agreed that the journey to a slimmer America will be gradual -- partly because so many people are unlikely to get out of their desk chairs to make it.

"Our culture, as a whole, has become extremely sedentary," he said. Many jobs, for example, involve sitting at a computer, and physical activity isn't a regular part of most people's lives, Hrabosky said.

But he agreed that people seem to be more conscious about maintaining a healthy weight. "I do think there's a turnaround, but I do think it's going to be very slow," he said.

He was echoed by Dr. Daniel Davis, chief of bariatric surgery at Stamford Hospital. "We're not out of the woods yet," he said. "Nothing has dropped off. It's just stabilized."

Last year, Connecticut was named the seventh least-obese in the country.

However, the state's shift in ranking in more a testament to how close all the state's rates are than anything else. For example, Alaska, Minnesota and Rhode Island all had rates of 25.7 percent (tying them all for 14th least obese).

Because it's a factor in so many chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, there's been a full court press both nationally and locally to get people eating better and moving more. Levi said that might be responsible for the recent figures.

"This is telling us that we've begun to put in place some combined strategies that are helping us combat this problem," he said.

In Greater Bridgeport, for example, a coalition of area hospitals, health departments and other organizations have started an anti-obesity effort called Get Healthy CT.

The initiative has launched several fitness and healthy eating programs.

acuda@ctpost.com; 203-330-6290; twitter.com/AmandaCuda; http://blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth/