People Indicators: ObesityObesity, defined as body mass index (BMI = mass(kg)/[ht(m)]2) greater than or equal to 30, is widely recognized as the nation’s most critical health problem because of its correlation with multiple diseases and causes of morbidity and mortality, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. It is a multifactorial condition and includes genetic, lifestyle and socio-cultural factors (Bouchard, 1998). The data show that progress is not being made in combating this epidemic. More below…
In the Houston region, more than one in four adults, or 26.6% of the population, self-report BMI data that indicates they are obese. Compared to other major regions in Texas, San Antonio outweighs Houston with a 29% obesity rate and Austin has the lowest rate with 26%. Compared to the three largest metro areas in the U.S., Houston has the same obesity rate as Chicago at 26.6% and higher obesity rates than Los Angeles at 25% and New York at 21.5%.
There is also a strong socio-economic gradient, with higher rates of obesity among persons with lower levels of education and income. Increased obesity has also been linked to the quality of neighborhood food sources, with higher rates of obesity in neighborhoods served by convenience stores and fast-food outlets. Neighborhoods with limited access to parks and with physical environments that are perceived as unsafe restrain physical activity and experience increased obesity. And a dependency on the automobile required by urban sprawl also increases obesity rates, a particular challenge for cities like Houston (Bennett, Wolin & Duncan, 2008).
Healthy communities are created, in part, as a result of the intersection of people and place. While obesity is multi-factorial, neighborhoods can play a huge role in mitigating the condition. If there are no conveniently located parks, sidewalks or bicycle paths, place may play a negative role in obesity. If there are only fast food stores and no access to nutritional information, place may play a negative role in obesity. If there are no medical clinics that residents can afford and get to easily, place may play a negative role in obesity.
According to a 2009 estimate from the Texas Comptroller, the total annual cost of obesity to businesses in Texas that year was $9.5 billion. If obesity rates continue to rise at the same rate, the direct annual cost of obesity to businesses in the state could reach an alarming $32.5 billion by 2030 (Combs, 2011). These enormous expenditures on obesity required of businesses, government, and families mean that the state and region will have fewer resources to spend on other priorities. In a recent study, McKinsey estimates global economic impact of obesity to be almost $12 trillion annually, or 2.8% of global GDP (McKinsey Global Institute, 2014).