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Former Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Rulon Gardner runs on a treadmill while fellow Utahn Justin Pope watches during an episode of TV's "The Biggest Loser."

SALT LAKE CITY — In this season of "The Biggest Loser," four of the contestants are Utahns.

And in several past seasons, other Utahns have been picked to go to the ranch and lose weight. So do these four contestants on the show reflect Utah's obesity rate?

Not really, according to Lynda Blades with the Utah Department of Health. "Utah is actually one of the less-obese states. We rank ninth," she said.

Utah's obesity rate is just below the national average of 27 percent.

"Just about 25 percent of our adult population is obese and 60 percent is overweight or obese," Blades said.

Rulon Gardner, who lives in Logan, is one of the most best-known contestants on the show this season. He is a gold medal Olympian, literally turned heavyweight.

His starting weight on the show?

"It was 474 pounds, and ultimately that's 200 pounds more than when I competed in the Olympics," Gardner said.

Gardner's partner on the show, Justin Pope, also lives in Logan. Together, the yellow team makes up the heaviest pairing on the Biggest Loser Ranch.

But Gardner warns not to underestimate him and Pope because he says both are very athletic and driven.

The other Utah team is a mother-daughter duo from Bountiful. Deni Hill, a mother of eight, is competing with her daughter Sarah.

Hill said she gained weight after each pregnancy, and because she cared for so many others, she never took time for herself. She also came on the show to help her daughter.

"My daughter has lost several pregnancies, and she's here to get her body in the kind of shape that she can have kids," Hill said.

According to the Utah Department of Health, the annual health care cost of obesity in the U.S. has doubled in less than a decade to $147 billion (in 2009).

Obesity is now responsible for 9.1 percent of annual medical costs compared with 6.5 percent in 1998. The medical costs for an obese person are 42 percent higher than for a person at ideal weight.

And in cities and neighborhoods like Midvale, Rose Park and West Jordan (north and west areas), the obesity rate is the highest in Utah — more than 30 percent of the adult population there are considered obese.

"It could have something to do with access to healthy foods," Blades said.

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Summit County and the Avenues and Foothill neighborhoods of Salt Lake City are listed as among the least obese areas, with rates at around 11 and 12 percent.

Still, Utah as a state is the most obese it has ever been, and, just like national trends, the rate of obesity here increases every year.

And Utahns like Gardner want to change that.

"Ultimately I want to be an individual who has another 40 years to live on this Earth," Gardner said. "And I realized that probably within 10 years I'd probably have a heart attack and potentially look at death."

"The Biggest Loser" airs every Tuesday night on KSL, Ch. 5.

e-mail: abutterfield@desnews.com