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6 in 10 W.Va. adults could be obese by 2030

John Raby, Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia can avoid a study's grim projection that six of every 10 adults will be obese by 2030 if statewide efforts to promote healthier lifestyles take hold, a physician said Tuesday.

The report released by the nonprofit groups Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the number of obese adults in the state, along with related disease rates and health care costs, are on course to skyrocket over the next two decades.

Trust for America's Health officials said the predictions were based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures from 1999 through 2010, along with other national data and recent trends in obesity rates.

Last month, the CDC said 32.4 percent of West Virginia adults were obese.

Dr. Ron Stollings said he's seen obesity through his medical practice and in his dealings with the state-funded CARDIAC project, which screens West Virginia children for heart disease, diabetes and other cardiovascular issues.

Figures released by the West Virginia University-run project show that of the 81,000 fifth graders who've been screened since 1998, 28 percent were considered obese, and an additional 19 percent were overweight.

"The data is there that supports we have a problem," said Stollings, a Boone County physician and chairman of the Senate Health and Human Resources committee. However, "there is a lot of focus and effort being made in West Virginia to otherwise keep this (trend) from happening."

Among them, the state recently received a $347,000 federal grant to promote healthy school meals. Officials hope that encouraging students to eat meals prepared at higher nutritional standards will improve their academic performance.

In January, a statewide coalition unveiled a program pushing residents to live more active lifestyles. The plan seeks to build partnerships between schools, communities and park systems.

And six mid-Ohio Valley counties are promoting starting and expanding local farmers markets, pushing for fresh fruits and vegetables in convenience stores and the creation of "healthy checkout aisles" in grocery stores.

"If there's no intervention, there's no doubt that our obesity rate is going to climb and make this prophecy true," Stollings said. "But I think with aggressive intervention, we can not only level it off, but create a downward trend."

Dr. Marian Swinker, commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, noted the advances in technology over the past three decades, including "labor-saving" household devices such as TV remotes, and the likelihood of more children being driven to school even if it's within walking distance.

"Everything that's easier is a calorie not burned," she said.

The report said obesity-related diseases could be prevented and health-care costs reduced if West Virginia adults reduce their average body mass index by 5 percent by 2030. For instance, a 6-foot tall person who weighs 200 pounds would lose roughly 10 pounds.

The report projected that obesity could contribute to 282,164 new cases of type 2 diabetes, 659,007 new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, 558,316 new cases of hypertension, 347,324 new cases of arthritis, and 88,983 new cases of obesity-related cancer.

And obesity-related health care costs in West Virginia could climb by more than 12 percent. But body-mass reductions could save the state 6.8 percent in those costs, the report said.