SPOTLIGHT: Rockford tops obesity list

By Melissa Westphal

Rockford Register Star

Published: Thursday, March 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

A photo taken March 15, 2012, shows Molly Kinkade, a clinical dietician at SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford, Ill., talking about food portion sizes. In a recent Gallup study Rockford again, near the top of an unflattering list, named the No. 4 most obese metro area in the nation. Kinkade said Rockford’s high unemployment could have contributed to increased obesity rates. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area in Texas took the top spot, and Boulder, Colo., is the least obese metro area on the list.

Rockford Register Star, Amy J. Correnti) MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ROCKFORD, Ill. — We didn't need a Gallup study to tell us we have a weight problem.

But there was Rockford again, near the top of an unflattering list a week ago, named the No. 4 most obese metro area in the nation. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metro area in Texas took the top spot, and Boulder, Colo., is the least obese metro area on the list.

So what makes us so much worse than everywhere else? That's not entirely clear.

The region's high unemployment — meaning people can be less focused on scheduled meals and have less money to spend on food — could be a recent contributing factor. It's clearly not an overnight problem or just a Rockford problem, as more than one-third of U.S. adults and nearly 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 today are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It doesn't matter if we're fourth, 10th or 15th on that list — we are in a national crisis with obesity," said Lois Lutz, vice president of youth community development for the YMCA of Rock River Valley. "We all need to really work together to make significant changes."

Body mass index, a formula that's associated with body fat, is at the center of Gallup's results. The group tracks obesity levels as part of its Well-Being Index using people's self-reported height and weight to calculate BMI.

An adult with a BMI between 25 and 29 is considered overweight, while a BMI of 30 or higher means a person is considered obese, according to the CDC.

Obesity is linked to a host of health problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and sleep apnea.

The CDC says weight gain can be caused by a variety of societal, cultural, economic and environmental factors. That's not news to Rockford-area officials, who've analyzed results of the 2010 Healthy Community Study spearheaded by the Rockford Health Council and released last year.

In Winnebago County, the leading causes of death in 2007 were heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases and accidents. In Boone County, they were the same, but in a different order.

Many aspects of those diseases are preventable by adjusting lifestyle choices, so local leaders are charged with creating programs and outreach efforts — and funding such initiatives — that help and encourage residents to improve their health. Committees formed based on the study's results are meeting now to prioritize ways to address a wide spectrum of health issues, including obesity.

As for someone who's new to town, Jason Walters said even he was surprised by Rockford's high place on the list. Walters is the ID Pennock Branch director of youth achievement at the YMCA and moved to the area about six months ago from Gainesville, Ga.

"I can honestly say I was surprised — there's a lot more fried food in the South," Walters said. "The Park District up here is so good, and there's a lot more green space up here than I expected. The Park District is so spread out, and the nonprofits, they're in it to help people out."

The Y teaches about 1,100 children in after-school programs about nutrition, exercise and goal-setting to encourage healthy living. Walters said children tend to respond to one-on-one and group conversations about their everyday habits and setting realistic goals.

"It's not to be perfect — that's not the goal," Walters said. "We as a staff help them set attainable goals. It's motivation. A goal of running three miles before walking may not be realistic for everybody. But maybe not drinking soda for a whole week is.

"It's easier to sneak in the wellness component, to make it fun by playing a game where they're running and not realizing they're working. It's not about muscle development at this age. The best exercise is to let them roll, rumble and run around so they stay healthy."

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