OBESITY: Despite ‘Healthier’ Cuisine, Californians Tip the Scale
More than half of Californians are overweight or obese, according to a study released yesterday by the Public Health Institute. Researchers conducted telephone interviews with 4,000 California residents and found that 60% of men and 45% of women have an unhealthy Body Mass Index. Overall, 52.9% of Californians were considered overweight or obese, up from 44.6% a decade ago. Calling obesity the "most serious health care crisis since tobacco," Dr. Carmen Nevarez, vice president of the Public Health Institute, said, "Having a culture bombarded with rushed lifestyles, fast foods and physical inactivity has caught up with us" (AP/San Francisco Examiner, 6/13). While increasing weight problems were "most pronounced" among African Americans and Latinos, whites also have experienced a substantial jump in obesity rates. Moreover, the "trend cuts across age, income and education levels." The Los Angeles Times reports that although men are more likely to be overweight, the survey found that a larger percentage of women (19%) than men (17%) were considered obese. Susan Foerster, chief of cancer prevention and nutrition at the state DHS, said, "California theoretically has a healthier cuisine than other parts of the country," but warned that Californians are taking in fat in other ways, including fast food. She added, "We're not spending our time at the beach or hiking in the mountains; we're chained to our computers and watching our videos." An analysis of the survey results also found that obesity kills roughly 33,000 Californians each year and costs $6 billion in health care expenses annually.
A Call for Action
Health advocates, including the Public Health Institute, the American Cancer Society and the National Stroke Association are calling on Gov. Gray Davis (D) to take action. Among the proposed solutions: more physical education requirements for schoolchildren, mandated ingredient disclosure for all fast food restaurants; and more bike paths, sidewalks, parks and recreation centers. Nevarez said, "There is a great deal of this that comes down to making the right (individual) choices. But you have to make those 'right choices' available." Nationally, 63% of men and 55% of women over age 25 are overweight. Obesity is the second leading preventable cause of death next to smoking and raises the risks of coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and other chronic diseases (Marquis, 6/14).