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Report: U.S. obesity rates ‘highest ever documented’

More Americans are obese than ever before. That’s according to an annual survey from Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The findings show 39.6 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of children fit the body mass index definition of obesity. Those are the highest rates documented by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey since the first state of obesity report was issued 15 years ago, researchers said.

These rates are up slightly from the previous year’s study. However, they’ve increased “significantly” since 1999, when 13.9 percent of children and 30.5 percent of adults were considered to be obese.

Obesity rates are considerably worse in some minority, low-income and rural communities, said Dr. Nadine Gracia, vice president and chief operating officer at Trust for America’s Health.

Gracia said some of those areas have less access to healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Some communities also lack safe public spaces where people can exercise and where children can play.

“Making healthy food choices, being physically active — that’s really an important part of maintaining a healthy weight thoughout your life. But often the choices you make depend on the choices you have,” Gracia said.

Childhood obesity in particular poses public health problems that could affect people for decades, with ties to adult obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers.

There is evidence that efforts to curb childhood obesity are working, Gracia said. For example, the report shows that obesity is down among families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Trust For America’s Health pushes for an “everyone plays a role” approach to fighting obesity, Gracia said. For families, that may mean helping their children to make better food choices.

For policymakers, Gracia said there needs to be “sustained investment and funding” in programs that make healthy food and exercise opportunities available.

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