Obesity has reached an all-time high across the U.S., and this statistic brings with it spiking levels of health hazards such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Dr. Catherine Toomer, MD and local health wellness and weight loss consultant, said she has seen a significant spike in obesity in children in Aiken over the past several years.
"I'm seeing an increase in obesity in younger people and the diseases that go along with that," Toomer said.
She claimed Type 2 diabetes used to be considered "adult onset diabetes," but now she sees it frequently in obese children in Aiken.
According to Trust for America's Health's recently released 16th annual State of Obesity report, one in three Americans of all ages – nearly 100 million people – are obese.
Nine states now have adult obesity rates above 35% as of 2018. South Carolina just barely missed that threshold; according to the report, the Palmetto State’s obesity rate is at 34.3%.
While a number of causes are blamed for causing America's obesity problem, Toomer thinks a local cause is a lack of basic education when it comes to health.
"People's knowledge of their bodies and how they work has diminished quite a bit," Toomer said. "A lot of that, I think, has to do with our education system. Health education is not as common as it used to be. You don't have home economics, so a lot of people don't know how to cook anymore. And cooking your own food has a lot to do with how well we eat."
If people don't cook at home, she said, they are more likely to eat out or consume junk food.
"As soon as you start adding chemicals, which are unnatural, our body doesn't know what to do with them, so it automatically stores them as fat," Toomer said.
According to the CSRA American Heart Association, over 31% of the population in the CSRA are obese. The area’s diabetes rate is above the national average, and more than half of people in the CSRA have high blood pressure, a leading factor in stroke and heart attack risk.
The report draws parallels between socio-economic conditions and obesity rates, displaying data that indicates obesity is much higher in poorer and rural communities.
The report attributes this mainly to “targeted advertising” that singles out lower income groups, especially people of color, and food deserts – communities that are lacking in resources such as a basic grocery store.
The data analyzed in the report comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It also highlights the fact that healthier foods are generally more expensive than processed or fast food, making it difficult for families on a fixed income to afford healthy food on a regular basis, especially if transportation is an additional barrier to the nearest grocery store.
A press release from the CSRA American Heart Association claims that policies that “promote healthier food and foster behavioral change” may be the answer to reversing current health trends in the CSRA.
To facilitate this, the association is continuing to develop its plan to increase access of healthy consumption of foods by working with local food pantries and nonprofits, reduced and free meal programs in the school system, and advocating for healthy-eating programs that give SNAP participants more access to fruits and vegetables.
“These priorities are ‘big picture,’” said CSRA American Heart Association Executive Director Kayla Kranenberg in a press release. “We are currently working on a detailed action plan to ensure that our approach is successful. This includes working with community partners to focus on barriers such as transportation and education. Our hope is that addressing these social determinants of health will create a ripple effect and improve the inequities in the CSRA’s vulnerable populations.”
To read the full report, visit tfah.org.