Obesity Rate Continues to Rise: Over One Third of Local Population at Risk


JEFFERSON CO., Pa. (EYT) – Obesity rates in the United States have continued to rise over recent years, and our area is no exception.

The growing obesity trend remains a serious concern both locally and across the nation. It is a leading cause of death in the U.S. and worldwide, with associated health concerns including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

Obesity is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in terms of Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measure of weight in relation to height. A BMI of 18.5 to less than 25 is considered normal. A BMI of 25.0 to just under 30 is considered overweight range, and a BMI is 30.0 or higher is considered obese.

Within the obesity classification, the CDC recognizes three subdivisions:

– Class 1 obesity is a BMI of 30 to 35;
– Class 2 obesity is a BMI of 35 to 40; and
– Class 3 obesity, which is sometimes categorized as “extreme,” is a BMI of 40 or higher.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health County Health Profiles, 35% of the adult residents in Jefferson County are obese. Looking at other counties in the area Armstrong, Clarion, Elk, Clearfield, Indiana, and Forest Counties’ rates are all also 35%.

Tina Householder, CEO of the Brookville YMCA, told exploreJeffersonpa.com that one of the frightening things in the growing obesity trend is that it has become so bad, we continue to redefine it.

“We keep creating new categories,” Householder said. “Years ago, the categories were ideal weight, overweight, and obese. That’s it. Then we added a category above obese called ‘morbidly obese’ which almost literally means ‘deadly obese.’ Now, we’ve gone beyond even that with a category called ‘super obese.'”

“It’s just amazing that we continue to push those boundaries and create new categories because BMIs keep rising, and it’s scary that people aren’t taking it more seriously.”

According to CDC, eating more calories than you burn in daily activity causes obesity. Over time, these extra calories add up and cause you to gain weight.

Common specific causes of obesity include:

– Eating a poor diet of foods high in fats and calories;
– Having a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle;
– Not sleeping enough, which can lead to hormonal changes that make you feel hungrier and crave certain high-calorie foods;
– Genetics, which can affect how your body processes food into energy and how fat is stored;
– Growing older, which can lead to less muscle mass and a slower metabolic rate, making it easier to gain weight; and
– Pregnancy (weight gained during pregnancy can be difficult to lose and may eventually lead to obesity).

“The obesity rate is still growing across the whole country, and we need to find a turning point,” said Chelsey Shaner, Wellness Coordinator of the Clarion County YMCA.

“The dangers of obesity are scary. It can lead to a lot of heart conditions, type two diabetes, and high blood pressure.”

According to Shaner, taking that first step and deciding to make a change can make all the difference.

“A few hours of your week, a little bit out of your paycheck, it’s worth making that small investment now rather than paying later in medical bills and medication, and it’s an investment in a better life. It’s better to invest in your health now and not when it’s already too late.”

Health and Wellness Director of the Oil City YMCA Katie Port said changes now can also help future generations.

“Childhood obesity is also a growing problem, and that’s a challenge because they don’t really have a say. They get what their parents or guardians provide. Once you get in that cycle, it can be hard to break, and genetics can also play a role, making it even more challenging.”

Echoing Chelsey Shaner, Port also stressed how much difference those first vital steps can be.

“Movement and eating well are the things our bodies need to function properly, and they affect everything from sleep to mental health to making you less susceptible to things,” explained Port.

“The benefits of exercise are huge, and though there are other contributing factors, once you start that ball rolling, start eating better and exercising, you start to feel better. Then you lose a bit of weight and that’s exciting. You can feed off that success to keep working at it as you see your quality of life continue to increase.”

Although the CDC indicates there are common causes of obesity, there are also certain medical conditions may also lead to weight gain.

These include:

– Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): a condition that causes an imbalance of female reproductive hormones;
– Prader-Willi syndrome: a rare condition that an individual is born with which causes excessive hunger;
– Cushing syndrome: a condition caused by having an excessive amount of the hormone cortisol in your system;
– Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid): a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain important hormones; and
– Osteoarthritis and other conditions that cause pain that may lead to inactivity.

CDC suggests that an individual who is obese and has a medical condition should check with their family physician who may be able to help with weight loss. Being obese may lead to other health problems such as type 2 diabetes; heart disease; high blood pressure; certain cancers, such as breast, colon, and endometrial; stroke; gallbladder disease; fatty liver disease; high cholesterol; sleep apnea and other breathing problems; and arthritis. A physician may prescribe medications or recommend better food choices like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

With more than one-third of our local population at higher risk of obesity-related health complications, this is a growing epidemic we cannot afford to ignore.


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