Saturday, July 24, 2004

'Basically, obesity is slowly killing us,' governor observes

Fletcher forms panel on problem after study shows overweight residents at epidemic levels, getting worse

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Kentucky's weight problem is at epidemic levels and is getting worse, according to a new study released Friday.

Overall, about 24 percent of adult Kentuckians are obese, compared with about 22 percent nationwide, the study found.

Adult men seem to have a greater problem with their weight than do women. About 70 percent of Kentucky men are overweight or obese, compared with 55 percent of women in that category, according to the report.

"Basically, obesity is slowly killing us," Gov. Ernie Fletcher said at a news conference.

The new "Kentucky Obesity Epidemic 2004" report, which was funded through a federal grant, looked at obesity in Kentuckians from all age groups. The report shows that Kentucky's weight problem is "accelerating at a rate that is simply unsustainable," said Dr. James Holsinger, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Among its findings, the report found that 15 percent of Kentucky's high school students and 17 percent of middle school students are overweight.

Also, 17 percent of children ages 2 through 4 are already overweight, while 18 percent are at risk of becoming overweight. Meanwhile, 14 percent of the state's sixth-grade pupils and almost 21 percent of seventh-graders are already overweight.

First lady Glenna Fletcher said Kentuckians' health habits must change to help protect the state's youngsters.

"As a nurse who is very aware of all the technological advances in modern medicine, I find it inconceivable that we may be raising the first generation of children who will have shorter life spans than their parents," she said.

The governor, who called the report's findings "extremely disappointing," said he's establishing a 13-member panel called "Get Healthy Kentucky!" aimed at fighting obesity.

It will be responsible for devising a plan for Kentucky to become healthier by reducing smoking and illegal drug use while increasing the number of child immunizations, Fletcher said.

"Our unhealthy lifestyles are essentially draining us of healthy days and the economic opportunity that health provides," Fletcher said.

Kentucky ranks eighth in the nation for adult obesity and sixth in the country for adults who are either overweight or obese, according to the report. While about 60 percent of adults nationwide are either overweight or obese, about 63 percent of Kentucky's adults fall in that range, the report said.

"The problem is all too clear, as is the urgent need for the solution, we must eat healthier and become more physically active," the report said.

Right now, only 29 percent of Kentucky's adult population gets enough exercise, compared with 45 percent nationwide. Meanwhile, about 35 percent of Kentucky's adult population does not get any physical activity, compared with 27 percent nationally, the report found.

"We need to encourage Kentuckians to become more active. And physical activity needs to be easily available, inexpensive and enjoyable," the report said.

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