Pennsylvania among states cited in 'F as in Fat' report on obesity

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In the 2008 Pixar animated science fiction film "WALL-E," humans 700 years in the future are depicted as morbidly obese creatures who sit in flying chaise lounge chairs, play golf on holograph computers and suck down meal-replacement shakes.

But if a new study released Tuesday is correct, we won't have to wait 700 years.

By 2030, more than half (56.7 percent) of all Pennsylvania's residents will be obese. Not overweight, but obese, defined by health care professionals as being more than 30 pounds over a healthy weight -- double Pennsylvania's current rate of 28.56 percent in 2011.

The report, issued by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, projects that 13 states could see obesity rates of well over 60 percent in 2030, with Mississippi the highest at 66.7 percent, if the current trajectory continues.

"This study shows us two futures for America's health," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, a doctor and CEO of the Johnson Foundation. "At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs. Nothing less is acceptable."

PG graphic: 'F as in fat' study
(Click image for larger version)

The 2012 report -- dubbed "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future" -- comes on the same day that the Journal of the American Medical Association unveiled its October issue on the theme of obesity, with new studies linking the plastic chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, with childhood obesity and highlighting the benefits of gastric bypass surgery.

The "F as in Fat" report painted a dark picture of a heavier population beset by preventable diseases: Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and stroke, along with skyrocketing health care costs, anywhere from $44 billion to $68 billion. However, officials also noted that even a simple reduction of 5 percent of one's body mass index -- for example, the loss of 10 pounds for a man weighing 200 pounds -- could dramatically reduce costs and health risks.

Some community efforts are already paying off, they noted. Rates of childhood obesity have decreased slightly in Philadelphia over the past decade, and similar trends have been found in New York City and Arkansas.

Last week, New York City officially banned the sale of sodas larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, mobile food carts, sports arenas and movie theaters, and McDonald's has announced it will post the calorie content of foods on all its menus. Ron Voorhees, acting director of the Allegheny County Health Department, has said no plans are in the works for a ban here.

While the release of "F as in Fat" was meant to fuel the ongoing public policy debate about anti-obesity measures -- what works, what doesn't, what government's role should be and at what cost -- the fight against obesity has already been ceded on some fronts.

Hospitals and health care providers, airlines, theaters and other industries have begun retrofitting facilities and equipment to accommodate heavier people, even as weight-loss surgical centers are growing in numbers and profitability.

Just last week, lawyers for an Ohio inmate on death row argued that he was too obese to be executed, "given his unique physical and medical condition."

UPMC's Physician Services Division, with 450 outpatient sites, accommodates obese patients with larger benches and tables and wider hallways and doorways, said spokeswoman Gloria Kreps.

These include barrier-free examination tables that lower to within 18 inches of the floor and are capable of lifting patients weighing up to 650 pounds.

At its new UPMC East facility in Monroeville, a number of bariatric patient rooms designed for severely overweight patients have extra clearances in the room and doorways 4 feet wide, while 14 of them are equipped with toilet fixtures designed to support up to 1,000 pounds. An overhead patient lift -- to prevent injuries to nurses and health care staffers -- has been installed in 60 of the facility's 156 inpatient rooms, with a capacity of 700 pounds.

At Geisinger Health System in Danville, Montour County, every employee has to take a course on dealing with morbidly obese patients, including the risks of lifting them, said Christopher Still, director of the Geisinger's Center on Obesity. Back problems suffered by nurses and staff "accounts for a lot of sick time," he said.

Obesity "is what it is," Dr. Still said.

"We are a growing society, and we have to accommodate the patient safely and deal with them with respect and dignity," from having hospital gowns that fit to larger blood-pressure cuffs.

West Shore EMS in Camp Hill, outside of Harrisburg, purchased two bariatric ambulances and has a third on order, since demand has far outstripped expectations. "We expected to use the specially fitted ambulance to transport 50 patients a year. However, the reality is that the providers transported 140 non-emergency patients and 60 emergency patients," said Lori Moran, a service spokeswoman.

Actually, the University of Pittsburgh is one of the top 10 recipients for obesity research funding from the National Institutes of Health, said John Jakicic, chair of Pitt's department of health and physical activity as well as other areas..

But then, he noted, he goes to a baseball game and gets discouraged.

"Why is it that the Pirates have to have an All You Can Eat section at the ballpark?" Mr. Jakicic said. "Pittsburgh is a pretty obese city, so why aren't the Pirates doing the right thing? ... Here you have a bunch of athletes out on the baseball field being watched by a sedentary group and the Pirates are trying to overfeed them. Why?"

For the record, Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki said the All You Can Eat section is one of the only baseball facilities to offer a salad option.

"The All You Can Eat section makes up less than 2 percent of the seats at our ballpark and was created after direct feedback from our fans in order to give groups coming to the ballpark cost certainty -- meaning group organizers know up front exactly how much it will cost each individual for both their ticket and food."

And they've got gluten-free hot dogs, too.

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Mackenzie Carpenter: or 412-263-1949.


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