South Carolina stepped on the scale this week, and the numbers aren't pretty.
According to a report released by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, South Carolina ranks 10th in the nation for adult obesity and second in obesity for ages 11-17. Those numbers shouldn't surprise anybody. South Carolina has ranked among the states with the highest obesity rates for years.
But the fact that nearly one in three South Carolina adults can be classified as obese and more than two-thirds are overweight is still cause for tremendous concern.
Obesity is a factor in a number of chronic illnesses, including diabetes and some types of cancer. It is also one of the primary causes of heart disease, and a prominent contributor to premature death.
Beyond the ramifications to personal health, obesity adds to ballooning health care costs nationwide to the tune of billions of dollars each year.
It will be next to impossible to slim down state and federal health care budgets without first slimming down waistlines.
If there's a silver lining to the study, South Carolina was not among the six states where obesity rates increased this year, and the rate nationwide remained relatively stable. However, that provides little consolation.
Obesity is a complex problem with many causes, but one of the most important tools in reducing obesity is eating a healthy diet. That can be quite a challenge, particularly for low-income individuals.
A study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine shows that the quality of the average American's diet increased slightly between 2005 and 2010. That means that people are avoiding trans-fats, drinking fewer sugary drinks and consuming a few more fruits and vegetables.
But the study's more shocking revelation was that low-income Americans saw their diet quality decrease over the same period.
In other words, the diet gap between low-income and middle-income people appears to be increasing, and that will almost certainly lead to greater obesity rates among those who can least afford health care.
Across the country, many low-income residents lack easy access to full-service grocery stores offering healthy foods like fresh vegetables, whole grains and unprocessed meats.
Indeed, many of the poorest neighborhoods are so-called "food deserts," meaning they have almost no access to grocery stores whatsoever.
Those same neighborhoods, however, tend to be dotted with fast food restaurants.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides help, but there are few restrictions on the foods that can be purchased with food stamps and thus little incentive to make healthier choices. More limits on how food stamps are used might reduce costs and encourage healthy choices.
Luckily, Charleston offers a few natural advantages in the fight against obesity. Local residents have access to miles of walking and bike paths along with other outdoor activities like swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding and more.
There are also several local groups and non-profit organizations dedicated to fighting obesity in children and adults as well as improving access to fresh, healthy and local food.
It's good that South Carolina seems to have stopped gaining weight for the moment. Now it's time to see if we can slim down a bit.
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