Spotlight on ‘troubling’ local obesity rates

HANCOCK – Lifestyle can lead to many health problems, and officials with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department are concerned one of those lifestyle issues in the western Upper Peninsula is obesity and overweight, which are contributing factors for many preventable diseases.

A report of a health survey of 2,500 residents in Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties released on April 29 showed the rate of obesity in the health department coverage area is 29.5 percent and the rate of overweight is 39.2 percent.

Guy St. Germain, health department health officer/executive officer, said those rates of obesity and overweight are troubling.

“The most pressing public health problems are obesity and obesity-related diseases,” he said.

The obesity-related diseases, St. Germain said, include heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

“That’s what’s killing us now,” he said.

Some recent research is showing a connection with obesity and some forms of cancer, also, St. Germain said.

The combination of overweight and obesity in the health survey respondents is almost 69 percent, which St. Germain said is troubling.

“When you put those together, you have an alarming statistic,” he said.

St. Germain said the rate for adult obesity and overweight in the five county health department coverage area is about the same as Michigan as a whole, which is 31.3 percent obese and 34.2 percent overweight.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity and overweight are measured using body mass index, which is a relation between height and weight. An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

In the past, St. Germain said most public health issues were related to sanitation and the incidence of communicable diseases. Those issues continued well into the 20th century until the advent of antibiotics around the time of World War II.

“We’ve definitely changed as a society about what our concerns are in public health,” he said.

St. Germain said the health survey included income levels, but the rates of obesity and overweight are close despite income.

“Obesity cuts across all socioeconomic factors pretty much equally,” he said.

Besides lifestyle, including diet and lack of activity, St. Germain said there is some recent research showing possible genetic factors.

“They all play important roles,” he said.

St. Germain said the health survey doesn’t examine possible causes for health issues, but instead is a report of the health status of the residents who responded to the survey. Also involved in the regional assessment were Aspirus Grand View, Aspirus Keweenaw, Aspirus Ontonagon, Baraga County Memorial, and Portage Health hospitals. Other agencies involved in the assessment were Copper Country Community Mental Health Services, Gogebic County Community Mental Health Authority, and the Western Upper Peninsula Substance Abuse Services Coordinating Agency.

St. Germain said he’s particularly troubled by the rates of childhood obesity and overweight in the health department coverage area. According to the survey, ” With the possible exception of Houghton County, obesity among middle and high school students appears to be more prevalent in the western U.P. than in the state as a whole.”

The survey shows the rates of obesity range from a low of 10.1 percent for Houghton County 11th grade students to a a high of 25.7 percent for Ontonagon County seventh grade students. The rates are rising with each successive class of students.

Dr. Teresa Frankovich, WUPHD medical director, said the connection between obesity and other health issues was made long ago, but other health issues have more recently been determined.

“Obesity has long been recognized as a risk factor for the development of diabetes and heart disease,” Frankovich said. “More recently identified is its contribution to the risk of developing certain cancers such as breast and colon cancer.”

In the past 10 years, Frankovich there has been an increase in the research into the possible connection between obesity and cancer.

The need to reduce the rates of obesity and overweight is extremely important, Frankovich said.

“With rates of obesity doubling in U.S. adults and tripling in children between 1980 and 2008, we are now seeing its enormous impact on our community’s health,” she said. “This impact will only become greater as our population ages.”

The results of the health survey show the need to reduce the rates of overweight and obesity in the western U.P., Frankovich said.

“It’s a no-brainer that we need to be focusing on prevention,” she said.