Arizona Hispanics, children focus of obesity study concerns

2010-06-29T13:15:00Z 2010-06-29T16:30:14Z Arizona Hispanics, children focus of obesity study concernsBy Stephanie Innes Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

One in every three Hispanics in Arizona is obese, says a new report whose authors say the state is among the six most obese in the country when it comes to its Hispanic population.

The report released Tuesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health ranks Arizona 15th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for its rate of childhood obesity. Eighteen percent of Arizona children ages 10 through 17 are obese, putting them at higher risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.

Twenty-six percent of Arizona adults are obese, up one percentage point from the previous year. Arizona is the 29th most obese state in the country, the data shows.

The report provides more proof of a crisis that has grown so acute that a group of retired military admirals and generals has made a plea for better school nutrition, saying that obesity is threatening national security. The non-profit group Readiness says more than 9 million young people ages 17 to 24 are too overweight to enlist in the U.S. military.

The group is concerned America eventually could run short of enough healthy recruits to sustain its all-volunteer military.

The numbers also underscore the need to for better health awareness locally, said Donald Gates, who is part of a Pima County Health Department team that's administering a $16 million federal grant aimed at promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles in Southern Arizona.

"We're looking at the big picture of policy systems and environmental change," Gates said. "There's no question the billions of dollars we spend on obesity-related medical care dwarfs the $16 million received. If we can make a tiny dent in reducing those costs, it more than pays for itself."

Socioeconomics are strongly correlated with the obesity, the report's findings indicate. More than one-third of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, noted Jeff Levi, the executive director of Trust for America's Health.

Arizona has a poverty rate of 16 percent - one of the highest in the nation - and studies have consistently shown minorities are more likely to live in poverty than whites. Arizona's obesity rate for whites is 23 percent compared with the 33.4 percent rate for Hispanics.

"Most Americans know obesity is a serious problem but millions of Americans, particularly in communities of color, still face barriers," said Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and chief executive officer of PolicyLink, which is is a national group that has an aim of advancing social and economic equality.

"Nearly 40 percent of Latino children are overweight or obese and more likely to develop diabetes . . . The link between poverty, race and diabetes is undeniable."

Glover Blackwell noted that by 2050 minorities will be a majority in the U.S.

Read more in tomorrow's Star


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