Yale: Adult obesity rates in the United States have reached epidemic proportions, with one in four people considered obese. Yet, obesity rates vary considerably across states and counties. In a new study, researchers at the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute (GHLI) explored community-level factors that may be associated with reduced adult obesity rates in counties within states that have a high adult obesity rate. Such geographic variation raises questions about the influence of community and regional factors on obesity, said the researchers.
Individuals who are obese are more likely to develop
chronic diseases, and as of 2009, the annual cost of obesity in the
United States was approximately $300 billion. With the possibility of
more people having less or no insurance, finding other means to help
offset individuals medical and health costs will become crucial in
coming years, said the researchers.
The study, published on Nov. 18 in Biomed Central,
identified six U.S. counties that — based on environmental influences —
should have high obesity rates. However, the counties had lower rates
of adult obesity, suggesting they used uncommon but successful
strategies that enabled better outcomes than other, similar counties.
visits and interviews with community leaders and government officials
we identified several recurrent themes and strategies,” said Maureen
Canavan, a GHLI researcher. “We found that counties
with self-led initiatives to promote healthy living saw reduced rates in
obesity, and fostered more ability for individuals to sustain healthier
Community initiatives that targeted challenges
related to physical activity and healthy eating proved successful in
helping residents improve their lifestyles. These communities built
internal partnerships that utilized their own resources and connections —
including collaborations with local restaurants, grocery stores and
recreation facilities — to foster initiatives that could then be
sustained by community members on their own.
Although a small
sample, findings suggest tapping into the unique strengths of a given
community (e.g. natural resources, an active retiree community, or local
small businesses) instead of medical or individual disease-specific
approaches can be employed to counter the obesity epidemic in the United
States, said the researchers.