Frequently Asked Questions
- Is being overweight or obese a problem in Utah?
- Why does this problem exist?
- What are the consequences of being overweight and obese?
- What is Utah doing and what more can be done?
- Why is Public Health involved - what can Public Health do?
- What can the general public do?
1. Is overweight and obesity a problem in Utah? YES
- More than half of Utah adults are overweight or obese (59.5%, Utah BRFSS 2007).
- Over one in three of those are obese (23.1% Utah BRFSS 2007).
- Utah is only doing slightly better than the US where 62.1% of adults are overweight or obese and 25.9% are obese (US BRFSS 2007).
- In 2007, over 1,023,000 adult Utahns were overweight or obese and 395,000 were obese.
- The number of those overweight or obese is greater than the entire SL Valley population (adults and children.)
- The number of those overweight or obese in Utah is greater than the entire population of Montana. You could simultaneously fill Rice Eccles Stadium, the E-Center, and Energy Solutions arena almost 13 times with the number of overweight or obese Utah adults.
- The percentage of obese adults in Utah has more than doubled (a 122% increase) since 1989.
- Significantly more men (68.0%) were overweight or obese in Utah than women (50.8%, Utah BRFSS 2007).
- Over one in five elementary age Utah children are overweight or at risk of overweight (21.5%, Utah child height and weight study 2008).
- In 2005, 35% of Utah women who delivered a baby were overweight or obese prior to becoming pregnant. This is a 21% increase since 1996.
2. Why does the problem exist? People are not getting enough physical activity and are eating too many high calorie and low-nutrient foods. Many factors contribute to this:
- Urban sprawl and dependence on cars
- Large food portions
- High calorie and pre-packaged foods
- Long work hours
- Sitting in front of the television or computer at work and home
- Skipping breakfast
- Little or no physical education in school
- Drinking soda instead of water and low-fat milk
- Aggressive marketing of junk foods to children and adolescents
- Parents find it difficult to make time for healthy meals and family activities
- Many feel their neighborhoods are not safe and do not encourage outside play
- More than 60 percent of U.S. adults are not active enough, and nearly one-quarter of those are not active at all (CDC)
- In women of reproductive age, putting on too much weight while pregnant and not losing their "baby weight"
3. What are the consequences of overweight and obesity? For both adults and children, overweight and obese are quite costly in several areas of life: health, health-care costs, income, socially, and others.
- Increased risk for diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and stroke, depression, injury, Alzheimer's disease, dementia, disability, or even death
- Decreased quality of life and energy levels
- Work absentiesm
- Studies show that obese pregnant women are at increased risk for gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, eclampsia, cesarean section, macrosomia, instrumental delivery, fetal distress, antepartum stillbirth, early neonatal death, and postpartum depression
- Obese pregnant women have been found to have longer labors, are more likely to have inadequate contraction patterns during labor, and are more likely to receive labor induction, augmentation and cesarean section
- Increased risk for type II diabetes, increased blood pressure and cholesterol-which are all risk factors for heart disease and stroke
- Social problems, lack of confidence, and decrease in energy
4. What is Utah doing and what more can be done? The Utah Department of Health has been working on and talking about this issue for several years:
- The Department of Health started the A Healthier You Legacy Awards Program in 2002. This program, and other efforts, increases awareness and develops partnerships in a variety of worksite wellness programs, the community health system, and school campus programs in order to give people the opportunity to make healthy choices. For example, we encourage employers to provide opportunities for physical activity and healthy food choices on the job, and to follow Governor Huntsman's Work Well Recommendations.
- The Department of Health started the Physical Activity Work Group in 2001. This program launched the UtahWalks web site - that encourages and assists communities to strive to be more walk-able by increasing access to safe routes, and providing access to parks and recreational activities from all neighborhoods.
- Additionally, The Department of Health is providing financial support to 10 community garden projects through a National Governor's Association grant.
- We are also encouraging women to breastfeed their babies and employers to provide breastfeeding-friendly worksites as it has been shown that women who breastfeed lose more weight after delivery. Breastfeeding also has been shown to help prevent obesity in newborns.
- The Department of Health started the Gold Medal Schools Program in 2001, a program that has now grown to encompass more than half of the state's elementary schools, and we are moving into middle schools. The program offers schools the resources to make changes to their health environments, creating opportunities for students and staff to eat healthy, be active, and stay tobacco-free. Communities can learn more about the program at hearthighway.org. Safe Routes to School and marked Gold Medal Miles provide more opportunities for physical activity and encourage kids and their parents to walk more. We are also combating vending machines full of junk food in schools by working with organizations like Action for Healthy kids to educate lawmakers and school districts on the negative effects of junk food in school and supporting new district wellness policies laid out by the federal government. We are also trying to help schools offer healthy food choices such as salad bars and fruit and veggie snack breaks.
Utah Partnership for Healthy Weight - A statewide public-private partnership of more than 30 organizations and a nonprofit organization committed to promoting healthy weight.
- To utilize the resources available to promote healthy weight and combat physical inactivity, overweight, and obesity
What we do:
- Act as clearinghouse for healthy-weight resources and programs
- Coordinate fragmented Utah healthy-weight efforts
- Act as resource for persons and organizations interested in healthy weight
- Collaborate with Utah universities on healthy weight research
- Seek funding to promote healthy weight in Utah
5. Why is Public Health involved - what can Public Health do?
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has acknowledged the role of government in many public health concerns, including obesity. Only through policies, legislation, programs, and research will meaningful changes be made.
State and local governments are in the best position to focus on the specific needs of their state, cities, and neighborhoods. Many of the issues involved in preventing childhood obesity-including actions on street and neighborhood design, plans for parks and community recreational facilities, and locations of new schools and retail food facilities-require decisions by county, city, or town officials. States should increase funding for their public health agencies so that they can more fully follow through on launching and evaluating obesity prevention efforts. Governments at all levels should coordinate national efforts with state and community efforts and engage community organizations and the private sector in developing new approaches to promoting healthy weight.
The IOM has issued reports which emphasize the importance of the role of government in the prevention of childhood obesity. The following are key points from two IOM documents.
Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, 2004
Immediate steps for confronting the epidemic at state and local levels:
- Expand and promote opportunities for physical activity in the community through changes to ordinances, capital improvement programs, and other planning practices.
- Work with communities to support partnerships and networks that expand the availability of and access to healthful foods.
Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity, 2006
Next steps for confronting the childhood obesity epidemic:
- Federal, state and local governments should each establish a high-level task force on childhood obesity prevention to identify priorities for action, coordinate public-sector efforts, and establish effective interdepartmental collaborations.
- State and local governments should demonstrate leadership for childhood obesity prevention by committing adequate resources and developing policies that lead to changes supporting a healthy school environment and healthy communities.
The Utah Blueprint to Promote Healthy Weight for Children, Youth, and Adults describes ways that state and local governments can address the obesity issue.
6. What can the general public do? Be Aware | Be Active and Eat Wisely | Be an Advocate
Be Aware - Many of us fall into unhealthy "Patterns of Living." Start thinking about your health and your habits by asking yourself the following questions:
- What are some barriers that keep you from being healthy?
- Can you change at least one pattern or habit?
- How does your daily diet stack up?
- Know what your average daily calorie intake should be to maintain a healthy weight. Go to www.mypyramid.gov for personalized dietary recommendations.
- Do you know what the recommendations are for physical activity? The Surgeon General suggests 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity activity daily. It's easier than you may think.
- Do you know what your Body Mass Index is? Compute your own BMI.
Be Active & Eat Healthy. A good caloric balance (your consumption vs. your output) is key to maintaining a healthy weight. Studies estimate that the difference between gaining and losing weight over a one-year period comes down to only about 19 calories per day. That's a difference of just 2 ounces of soda or gardening or biking for 4-5 minutes. When trying to loose weight, start by making small changes in your behavior. Here are a few suggestions:
- Keep a pair of walking shoes at work and go for walks on your breaks or lunch. 10-15 minutes of physical activity at a time can yield health benefits.
- Take the stairs whenever you can.
- Walk while doing errands. Look at www.utahwalks.org to find out more about the benefits of walking.
- Make family time active time. Enjoy an afternoon bike ride with your kids.
- Control portion sizes. See how portion sizes have grown over the last 20 years.
- Watch out for liquid calories - limit soda consumption.
- Exercise or stretch while watching TV.
- Keep "screen time" (TV, computer games, videos) to a minimum - no more than 2 hrs/day.
- Choose activities you enjoy the most. You'll be more likely to stick with them.
Be an Advocate. The makeup of our environments - where we live, work, learn and play - strongly affects our health. If we are in places that encourage healthy habits, and make them easy choices, we are more likely to benefit. Think about where you spend the majority of your time and what types of choices you have in those places. Try the following to improve your environments:
- Be an advocate for safe and convenient places to be active in your neighborhood.
- Make sure snacks and lunches offered at work functions are healthy.
- Find out if your employer offers incentives or rewards for healthy behavior.
- Support healthy food options in school cafeterias and vending machines.
- Breastfeeding is a very early way to begin a life filled with good health and benefits both the child and mother, but nursing is not always easy for new moms. Learn more how you can help.