SJC’s top five public health needs: Obesity

This is the fourth installment of a five-part series detailing the top five health needs in St. Joseph County.

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY — Obesity and physical inactivity is the top public health need identified in St. Joseph County during the 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment — a joint effort of the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency, Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Three Rivers Health and Sturgis Hospital to craft a plan to meet local health and medical needs.
St. Joseph County ranked 64th among 83 Michigan counties for adult obesity (those having a body mass index of 30 or greater), and 77th for adults who reported no leisure time activity. Between 2001 and 2009, percentages of obesity grew by 4.7 points for St. Joseph County men and by 11.4 points for St. Joseph County women.
Of county high school students, 20.4 percent are obese (have a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile) and 14.1 percent are overweight (have a body mass index between the 85th and 95th percentile).
Sixty percent of female students were trying to lose weight even though only 33.3 percent were overweight/obese.
More than one in five watched three or more hours of TV on an average school day, and more than one in three played video games or used a computer for something that is not school work three or more hours per day on an average school day.
“Obesity and inactivity is the number one health issue at the root of chronic disease,” said William Russell, CEO of Three Rivers Health. “Despite facilities like our HealthTRAC and others throughout the county, we are less and less active and more and more obese. We have to put more attention and resources toward educating people about how very damaging excess weight and lack of physical activity will be for them as they age. Children too, are at risk for living with chronic disease as a result.”
Obesity and overweight combined are the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the nation. Poor diets and lack of physical activity are associated with many chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and may also be a factor in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated annual medical costs for people who are obese are $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
Childhood obesity has immediate and long-term impacts on physical, social and emotional health: children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, Type 2 diabetes, and risk factors for heart disease. They are more likely to be bullied and teased and are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression and lower self-esteem. In the long-term, obese adolescents are 70 percent more likely to be obese adults, putting them at risk for all the associated chronic conditions and diseases.
According to a recent study from the University of Michigan, socioeconomics is a more accurate predictor of unhealthy weight status than race or ethnicity. Low-income families tend to eat cheaper, processed, lower nutritional foods that contain excess sugar and fat and are more calorie-rich than their higher-income counterparts. They also tend to have less access to organized physical activities (i.e. parks and recreation programs, exercise facilities, intramural sports, etc.) Children living in rural areas are also at increased risk for unhealthy weight gain and 25 percent more likely to be obese than those living in metropolitan areas. In part, this is due to the higher rates of childhood poverty found in rural areas. Transportation; the lack of sidewalks, parks and trails; and difficulties in accessing nutrition education and services are all identified barriers.
The community health needs assessment recommends that individuals maintain a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, low and fat-free dairy products and whole grains; engage in regular physical activity (at least 150 minutes each week for adults and 60 minutes per day for children/adolescents); and know four key health measures — body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood glucose level.
The report also encourages:
•Clinicians to use the “Integrating Primary Care Practices and Community-based Resources to Manage Obesity: A Bridge-building Toolkit for Rural Primary Care Practices” to help connect patients to obesity management resources.
•Health and human services providers to continue the Step Up St. Joseph County collaboration to promote locally-based healthy living efforts. To assure that information about nutrition/physical fitness is incorporated into all health and community events. To offer free and/or affordable, targeted, evidence-based educational opportunities to high-risk populations.
Please see Friday's Commercial-News print or e-edition for the full article.

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