Steve Griffin, Deseret News
FILE - The Salt Lake City skyline on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. A growing number of Utahns are reaching a higher risk level of unhealthy weight, going from overweight to obese.

SALT LAKE CITY — A growing number of Utahns are reaching a higher risk level of unhealthy weight, going from overweight to obese.

A new report from the Utah Department of Health indicates that from 1999 to 2017, the number of obese Utahns increased nearly 30 percent, from 32.8 percent to 41.7 percent.

"This shift is concerning because as individuals move from being classified as overweight to obese, the potential for health threats such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even some cancers increase," said Michael Friedrichs, health department epidemiologist and author of the study. He said that being overweight also increases the risk of poor health outcomes, "but the risk is intensified for people who are obese."

" We are seeing Utahns, and alarmingly, more and more of our youth, move into higher risk levels of unhealthy weight. "
Michael Friedrichs, health department epidemiologist

The Utah report, which uses data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, shows that the risk for heart attack and stroke is nearly 40 percent higher for obese adults than it is for overweight adults. In addition to health concerns, a rising proportion of obesity has social and economic implications, specifically higher health care costs, the report states.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines weight that is higher than recommended for a certain height as overweight or obese. A body mass index (a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) indicates where a person sits on a scale of healthy weight, and obesity is indicated by a BMI of 30 kg/m³ or higher.

The obesity trend is apparent among Utah youth, as well, according to the report released Thursday.

"We are seeing Utahns, and alarmingly, more and more of our youth, move into higher risk levels of unhealthy weight," Friedrichs said, adding that from 1999 to 2017, the proportion of obese Utah high school-aged youth grew from 38 percent to 42 percent — a 12 percent increase.

The health department considers obesity a public health issue and offers various interventions to help people make the lifestyle changes needed to maintain a healthy weight.

Rebecca Fronberg, manager of the Utah Department of Health's Healthy Living Through Environment, Policy and Improved Clinical Care program, said preventing obesity is a "high priority for health officials."

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The program conducts trainings and provides resources to various facets of community life. It also promotes Walk and Bike to School days and Safe Routes to School, to help youth develop active habits.

"Making the healthy choice the easy choice at child care, schools, work sites and communities can encourage Utahns to make healthier nutrition choices and to make regular physical activity a part of their life," Fronberg said.

The Utah public health program for healthy living also encourages employers to use the CDC's Work Health program to create a culture of health. Various efforts fostered by the state's EPICC program can be found online, at choosehealth.utah.gov.