Tennessee's weighty problem

Tennessee's weighty problem

July 11th, 2011 in Opinion Times

It's not hard to confirm the validity of a new report that Tennessee now ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of obese adults. A glimpse at the crowd in the stands at a football game, at shoppers in a mall or at any other place here and across the state where people congregate should quickly validate the finding. The resultant picture is not pretty, but it should serve as a call to action for those concerned about the physical and economic health of the state and its residents.

Tennessee, sadly, is not the worst example of excess poundage, though 31.9 percent of its adults classified as obese. Mississippi leads all states in the percentage of obese adults with 34.4 percent. It is followed by Alabama (32.2 percent) and West Virginia (32.2). The numbers are stark, particularly since the report's authors carefully defined the terms "overweight" and "obese." The difference in terms is more than semantic; it can be life-altering.

Those who are overweight have too much body weight for their height, and often face various health issues as a result. Those who are obese have "an excessively high amount of body fat" in relation to lean body mass. As a result, they are at high risk for debilitating and potentially deadly health problems. That's why the report that nearly a third (31.9 percent) of Tennessee adults is obese is so unsettling.

What's even more disturbing is that the state's obesity rate has increased by 90 percent since 1995. On closer examination, that's hardly a surprise. After all, Tennessee trailed only Oklahoma and Alabama for the fastest-growing rates of obesity. That suggests the number of obese Tennesseans will continue to expand in coming years.

If that proves to be the case, it will be costly. Obese individuals - adults as well as a growing cohort of children and teens - consume a disproportionate share of health care dollars in the United States. That's especially true in Tennessee, where much of the expense is borne by taxpayers since so many individuals rely on the state for health care subsidies.

It's hardly a stretch to say that health care costs are a drain on the budget in a state in which obesity fuels high rates of stroke and diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac problems. Those same issues cause workplace problems, too. Obese individuals often don't qualify for jobs. Others do find employment, but have poor attendance records because they are too big or too ill to work efficiently and regularly. The cost in lost productivity is staggering, a figure surely noted by those considering Tennessee as a home for industry or business.

The new report confirms what health care officials already know: Tennessee has an obesity problem. The authors do not offer a corrective other than tried-and-true remedies - making healthier food choices, exercising regularly and seeking preventative health care. That's advice easily offered, but hard to follow. Tennessee's high rate of obese adults proves that.