SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's obesity rate dropped by 1.2 percent in 2015, giving the state the seventh-lowest rate in the nation, according to a report released Thursday.
While rates and weights seemed to be heading upward since the early ’90s, including an uptick in 2014, the annual State of Obesity report from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows a slight decline in incidence in the Beehive State.
The adult obesity rate in Utah is 24.5 percent, down from 25.7 the year before, the report states.
The decline is a more favorable trend to health workers like Rebecca Fronberg, assistant program manager with the Utah Department of Health's Healthy Living through Environment, Policy and Improved Clinical Care program.
Fronberg said the department has been working to form partnerships with businesses and community leaders to foster environment and policy changes that lead to healthier lifestyles for all Utahns.
"There are awesome things going on to make our community a place where it's not just about driving, it's about moving our bodies to get places," she said.
But ultimately it comes down to people "making healthy choices" for themselves, Fronberg said. She said she's seeing a lot more people struggle with choices their loved ones have made, or seeing their own health compromised by an unhealthy weight.
"People are recognizing what can happen when they don't make healthy choices," Fronberg said. "It really is easier to be healthy and active."
Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have long supported the belief that "all adults should have access to affordable, healthy foods and beverages, and the opportunity to live healthy, active lives," according to their latest report.
The groups also want children to have the chance to grow up at a healthy weight, and through the more than 10 years they've been tracking data, there's been marked progress.
Obesity rates in children have either declined or held steady in most states, and growth in adult rates has slowed, according to the report.
Depending on the state, success has come from various measures.
Communities across the country are adopting more and safer walking routes; grocery stores are changing food presentations to make healthy options more accessible; and school districts and workplaces are updating wellness policies and incentivizing healthy behaviors among staff, students and employees.
"Obesity remains one of the most significant epidemics our country has faced, contributing to millions of preventable illnesses and billions of dollars in avoidable health care costs," said Richard Hamburg, interim president and CEO at Trust for America's Health, a health advocacy organization. "These new data suggest that we are making some progress, but there's more yet to do."
Hamburg suggests improving nutrition and increasing activity in early childhood, "making healthy choices easier in people's daily lives."
Fronberg said Utah's decline of 1.2 percent between 2014 and 2015 is small but "significant."
"If we drop that amount every year, we would be doing great," she said, adding that local groups are working hard to make an impact.
The health department program aims to help businesses provide incentives to workers, as well as physicians writing what Fronberg calls "green prescriptions," prescribing increased activity or giving coupons for healthy foods.
"We need everyone to understand the benefit of eating healthy and exercising," she said.
Obvious benefits of incorporating healthier habits in life, Fronberg added, include feeling better overall, but also preventing disease and increased performance in school and at work.
"It's a process over time," she said. "There's no miracle for weight loss, as far as I know, but every little bit helps. So do something."
The report shows fewer teens are drinking soda and more are playing video games, and more than 29 million kids across the U.S. — including 13.3 percent of children in Utah — live in homes with limited access to adequate food and nutrition due to cost, proximity and/or other reasons.
Louisiana has the highest adult obesity rate at 36.2 percent, and Colorado has the lowest at 20.2 percent. And while rates remained steady for most states, the report and the organizations behind it say the rates are still high across the board.
Obesity rates are higher than 35 percent in four states, are at or above 30 percent in 25 states, and are above 20 percent in all states, according to the report, which is based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. In 1991, no state had a rate above 20 percent.
The entire report can be found online at stateofobesity.org.