By Rose Hoban

Two new studies show that the percentage of obese adults, adolescents and children in the U.S. hasn’t budged from 2007 to 2010. Data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show more than one-third of U.S. adults and almost 17% of people aged 2 – 19 were obese in 2009–2010.  Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater.

While the country’s obesity epidemic persists, the bright side to this report just might be that there was no overall increase in obesity.  In fact, the authors of the studies, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (here and here), note that the increases observed in prior surveys “may not be continuing at a similar rate, and in fact, the increases appear to be slowing or leveling off.”

Still, this year’s NHANES report showed “slight increases that were statistically significant for non-Hispanic black and Mexican American women,” according to the researchers.

So how does North Carolina fare?  NHANES is a cross-sectional, nationally representative survey, therefore it does not contain state specific data.  But the forthrightly-named 2011 “F as In Fat” study from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranks the states.  In that study, NC had the 14th highest obesity rate for adults and the 11th highest for children.

That was an improvement for NC compared to 2010 when it had the 10th highest obesity rates for adults.  However, the childhood obesity rank held at 11th.

“We are making some progress,” Sherée Thaxton Vodicka with the NC Division of Public Health’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch said.  “But, boy, do we have a lot of work to do.”

The Eat Smart, Move More campaign is NC’s vehicle for reducing obesity.  A big part of the strategy is pushing for policies that enable people to eat better and exercise, whether by requiring higher nutritional standards in school lunches and vending machines or facilitating sidewalks that help people get to where they need to go.

“Most of our focus is on trying to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Vodicka explained.

The NC State Center for Health Statistics produced this graphic on overweight and obesity based on BRFSS (Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System of the CDC) data from 2009.  It provides and interesting geographical look at the percentages by county, the starkest difference being between the sides of the state.

“This makes perfect sense knowing what we do about many of the regions in bright yellow,” Vodicka said of the graphic.

The Eastern and Coastal regions of the state demonstrate a greater percentage of people with high BMIs.  They are also more likely to be rural, poor, minority and have less access to health care.  Whereas, the Mountain region has a lower percentage of people in the unhealthy weigh range.  It is also more likely to be white and has an enclave of wealthy retirees.

Eat Smart, Move More takes a positive approach to behavior change, focusing on what people can do to be healthier.  Still, Vodicka understands the controversial approach of Georgia’s Strong4Life and New York City’s campaign about portion sizes.  Both have been criticized for stigmatizing obesity and using fear and shame to change behavior.

“We’ve never seen a time when children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure … so states are trying new strategies,” Vodicka said.  If Georgia is tracking how well their campaign is received and if it reduces obesity rates, Vodicka said she be interested to see if their tactics gets better results.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...