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State report puts dollar figure on Oregons obesity epidemic

Obesity rate increases level off in recent years

Between 1990 and 2009, obesity rates in Oregon increased a drastic 121 percent, with the over 1.76 million state adults classified as obese or overweight in 2009, based on a report released Tuesday by the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division.

According to the report, "Oregon Overweight, Obesity, Physical Activity and Nutrition Facts," 60 percent of Oregon adults were overweight or obese in 2009.

However the steadily increasing rate of obese adults leveled off slightly between 2008 and 2009.

Dr. Katrina Hedberg, state epidemologist, said it is too early to determine if the apparent decline in obesity rate increases in recent years represents a true trend.

"Over the past 20 years we have seen a marked increase," Hedberg said. "Every single year it's been a very steady trend. We've seen a slight leveling off of the obesity prevalence, but really need to see whether or not that gets maintained over time."

Dr. Jonathan Purnell, associate professor of Endocrinology at Oregon Health and Science University, said the percentage could have plateaued because people have become more conscious of their health.

As a state, Oregon fits in with nationwide obesity rates. In 2009, 24.1 percent of Oregonians were obese, compared to 26.9 percent of U.S. citizens.

"Unfortunately, Oregon is not a whole lot better than the rest of the U.S., but fortunately it's not a whole lot worse," Hedberg said.

Rural counties higher rates

According to the report, urban counties tend to have a lower percentage of obese adults. Rural counties, such as Malheur and Crook, have 33.1 percent and 31.5 percent adult obesity rates. In Multnomah County, 21.7 percent of adults were obese, with 23.2 percent of adults listed as obese in Washington County and 23.6 percent in Clackamas County.

Purnell said urban areas tend to have lower numbers because city dwellers have more opportunities to be active. Hedberg said some of the urban/rural difference may be due to the fact that it is often harder to get data from smaller counties.

"Portland does a good job in terms of creating an urban environment where people have to opportunity to walk more," Purnell said.

The increasing obesity rates have also forced a jump in the cost of health care, according to the report. Oregon medical costs related to adult obesity reached $1.6 billion in 2006, $339 million of the which was paid by Medicare, and $333 million by Medicaid.

"Overweight and obesity is a major driver of some of the primary problems we have out there," Purnell said.

The health risks associated with obesity include asthma, arthritis and diabetes. Obese adults are also more at risk for a heart attack or stroke. According to the report, in 2009, 82 percent of Oregon adults with diabetes were overweight or obese.

Obese people have annual medical costs that are on average $1,429 more than people who are not obese, according to the report.

"Some of the health care costs are included in looking at how long people need to stay in the hospital for a certain condition," Hedberg said. "People may end up staying in the hospital longer."

Risks for children

The report showed how Oregon's children are also at risk. The study focused specifically on children in middle and high school. Hedberg said 27 percent of eighth grade students and 24 percent of eleventh grade students were reported as overweight or obese in 2009. This puts children at risk for starting unhealthy lifelong patterns.

"It's much harder if you are an overweight or obese youth," Hedberg said.

Close to half of Oregon eleventh graders reported that they were trying to lose weight.

Hedberg said the Oregon Health Authority will continue to collect data and study obesity.

"It's never too late," Hedberg said. " Small changes can help to make people healthier."