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Report: Kentucky's Obesity Rate Leveling Off

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Kentucky is no longer among the top five states with the highest obesity rates, according to a new analysis.

"State of Obesity," a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health, lists Kentucky as having the 12th-highest obesity rate in the country, at 31.6 percent.

By ranking, Kentucky has improved significantly from last year, when it landed at No. 5 nationally for obesity rates. But that's deceiving. The state's obesity rate has essentially leveled off, according to Abbey Cofksy, senior program officer for RWJF.

"On the surface that looks like a decrease," she said. Last year, Kentucky's obesity rate was 33.2 percent. "How significant it is, we don't know just from that. But it's going in the right direction, and that's what we're encouraged about."

Arkansas has the highest obesity rate in the country at 35.9 percent, while Colorado has the lowest at 21.3 percent. West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama rounded out the top five.

Kentucky still has the highest rate of obese high school students at 18 percent. The state ranks sixth for having the most obese 2-to-4-year-olds from low-income families. And it ranks eighth for the percentage of 10-to-17-year-olds who are obese.

Crofsky said generally, the most improvement comes when there is early prevention.

"The earlier we can intervene, the earlier we can set the stage for healthy eating and active living, environments that give children and their families the options to make healthy choices," she said.

The Beshear administration last year used a $275,000 grant from Nemours, a Florida-based child health system, to help early care and education providers offer better diet and exercise management services. Beneficiaries of the program include child care, Head Start and pre-K providers.

According to the Partnership for a Fit Kentucky, an advocacy group that works with state government on obesity and other health issues, the average taxpayer spends $175 a year on obesity-related medical costs via Medicare and Medicaid. The groups says in 2018, Kentucky will spend an estimated $6 billion in health care costs connected to obesity.

The RWJF report also shows Kentucky has a high percentage of obesity-related diseases. More than one in 10 Kentuckians has diabetes, the analysis found, while nearly four in 10 have hypertension.

Kentucky's obesity rate has surged in the past two decades. In 1990, it was 12.7 percent. In 2000, it was 21.7 percent.

Crofsky said the impact of obesity and related illnesses is a strong incentive for states to strive for a return to those earlier markers.

"Aspiring to lower rates that look like 10, 12 percent may be very aspirational as of right now, but I think we need to be cognizant of the unbelievable impact that obesity has had on us as individuals, as families, as communities," she said.

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