Dreaming of BBQ ribs and creamy homemade ice cream at the Fourth of July weekend picnic?
You may want to cut down your helpings, opt for low-fat alternatives or stick to a green salad with chicken.
Adult obesity rates jumped in 23 states - and did not fall in a single US state in the past year, according to a new report by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The report offer a window into how some people are using food for comfort in a down economy, and warns of the potential for obesity-related health costs to soar as the boomer generation ages.
With obesity rates steadily climbing over the past several decades, lawmakers would be wise to consider tackling obesity issues as part of health care reform, researchers said.
Mississippi's rate is 32.5 percent, bulging at the top of the list for the fifth year in a row. West Virginia, Alabama and Tennessee are among the other states with rates soaring past 30 percent. Illinois was at 25.9 percent, while California hit 23.6 percent. Colorado had the lowest percentage of obese adults at 18.9 percent. (See state-by-state comparison)
The outlook for kids is heavy, too. The percentage of obese or overweight children is at or above 30 percent in 30 states. Among rates for kids, Mississippi again reported the highest among children aged 10 to 17, reaching 44.4 percent.
"Our health care costs have grown along with our waist lines," said Dr. Jeff Levi, executive director of TFAH. "The obesity epidemic is a big contributor to the skyrocketing health care costs in the United States. How are we going to compete with the rest of the world if our economy and workforce are weighed down by bad health?"
Adult obesity rates exceeded 25 percent in 31 states over the past year, and surpassed 20 percent in 49 states and Washington, D.C. That means that two-thirds of American adults are either obese or overweight, representing a problem that's been growing over the past three decades.
Consider that in 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. The national average for adult obesity was 15 percent in 1980. Meanwhile, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since 1980.
Boomers, for example, have been fighting the battle of the bulge for years. Recent TFAH analysis found boomers have a higher rate of obesity compared with previous generations.
Despite efforts to eat better and exercise, many boomers struggle to reverse bad habits they learned when growing up in the '50s and '60s under a different set of nutritional rules. At that time, society wasn't as worried about obesity, smoking or junk food.
However, the worries are particularly acute today. Estimates of the increase in percentage of obese adults range from 5.2 percent in New York to 16.3 percent in Alabama. As boomers age, obesity-related costs to Medicare and Medicaid are likely to grow significantly because of the large number of people in this population.
Researchers pointed out that the current economic crisis could aggravate the obesity epidemic overall. Food prices, particularly for more nutritious foods, are expected to rise, making it more difficult for families to eat healthy. At the same time, safety-net programs and services are becoming increasingly overextended as the numbers of unemployed, uninsured and underinsured continue to grow.
And due to the strain of the recession, rates of depression, anxiety and stress - which are linked to obesity for many individuals - also are increasing. To that end, many adults often crave relief in "comfort foods" like macaroni salad or char-broiled burgers that make them feel better.
Emphasis on Prevention
Reversing the childhood obesity epidemic is a "critical ingredient "for living in a healthier population and making health reform work, said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and chief executive officer.
"If we can prevent the current generation of young people from developing the serious and costly chronic conditions related to obesity, we can not only improve health and quality of life, but we can also save billions of dollars and make our health care systems more efficient and sustainable," she said.
However, policies aimed are reducing or preventing obesity could help the outlook for younger generations. Currently, 19 states have nutritional standards for school lunches, breakfasts and snacks, compared to four states four years ago.
Twenty-seven states have standards for foods sold in vending machines or in school stores, up from six states five years ago. And 20 states have passed body mass index screenings or other weigh-related assessments in schools. That compares to four states who had screening requirements five years ago.
Overall, researchers suggested that lawmakers can help address obesity through health reform. One idea is to ensure that every adult and child has access to nutrition and obesity counseling and screening for obesity-related disease such as Type 2 diabetes.
It's also important to increase the number of community and school programs that help make nutritious foods more affordable and accessible. Lawmakers could also reduce Medicare expenditures by promoting programs that improve nutrition and increase physical activity among boomers over 55.