Obesity, Exercise Both on the Rise in U.S.


A recent study of individual counties in the United States finds that, on average, both obesity rates and exercise rates are increasing in the United States. In the study, a sufficient level of exercise was defined as 75 minutes of intense exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. In the majority of counties, men were found to be getting sufficient weekly exercise more frequently than women, though women made more progress in this area than men over the course of the study period.

While researchers can basically only speculate as to why the phenomena would simultaneously occur, it may have something to do with the fact that preventing obesity is fairly easy to do on paper. Making healthy food choices, getting better sleep and getting at least some exercise are all quite simple and can help curb obesity. However, not going far enough will likely do little.

More People are Exercising

The study was conducted from 2001 through 2009. Overall, the percentage of Americans getting sufficient daily exercise increased over this period. That states that made the most significant improvements included California, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky.

Concho County, Texas showed the most improvement for men of any county in the nation, with 41% getting sufficient exercise in 2001 and 58% getting sufficient exercise in 2009. Morgan County, Kentucky saw the biggest improvements for women, with 26% getting enough exercise in 2001 and 44% getting sufficient exercise in 2009.

The study continued in 2011, finding that the county with the greatest percentage of men who engaged in sufficient weekly exercise (77.5%) was Teton County, Wyoming. Owsley County, Kentucky was on the opposite end of the spectrum, with just 33.1% of men getting sufficient weekly exercise. For women, the two extremes were Issaquena County, Mississippi (28.4%) and Routt County, Colorado (74.7%).

…but More People are Obese, Too

Unfortunately, higher rates of physical activity have not resulted in lower rates of obesity, on average. The most drastic obesity rate hike for men occurred in Lewis County, Kentucky, where just 29% of men were obese in 2001, but 50% were in 2009. The fastest-increasing obesity rate for women was observed in Berkeley County, South Carolina, where rate was 36% in 2001 before rising to 48% in 2009.

Nationwide in 2011, the highest obesity rate in men (47%) was observed in Owsley County, Kentucky. The lowest obesity rate for men was in San Francisco County, California, where only 18.3% of men were found to be obese.

The county with the lowest obesity rate for women (17.6%) was Falls Church City County, Virginia. The highest rate of female obesity (60%) was observed in Issaquena County, Mississippi, the county that also has the lowest rate of sufficient weekly exercise among women.

Obesity in America

The researchers believe the study findings support the notion that although people are exercising more in America than they did about 10 years ago, it’s not enough to mitigate the rising rates of obesity that have been observed as well. University of Washington global health professor Dr. Ali Mokdad, one of the lead researchers behind the study, also feels that poor diets are canceling out the health-positive effects of increasing exercise rates.

Today, over 33% of U.S. adults are obese, putting them at greater risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and other life-threatening conditions. The researchers behind the study hope that the county-by-county data will assist local communities in developing policies and programs that could mitigate the obesity epidemic.

The Bottom Line

A new study conducted by the University of Washington indicates that obesity rates and exercise rates in America are both on the rise.

The full text of the study can be found online in the journal Population Health Metrics.

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