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An Echo Press Editorial: Obesity on the rise; COVID hasn't helped

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

In the battle of the bulge, the bulge is winning.

Which is bad news for those who care about their health.

New data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows Minnesota’s adult obesity rate in 2020 was 30.7%, up from 30.1% in 2019.

While the increase of 0.6% is not considered significant, it highlights ongoing public health concerns about obesity rates on a state and national level, according to Minnesota Department of Health leaders.

Minnesotans who are obese are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and other serious health conditions including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Obesity is also associated with poor physical and mental well-being, making now an important time for Minnesotans to focus on their well-being, being active and eating healthy, health leaders said.

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In a news release, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more challenging than ever for Minnesotans and for health professionals to address chronic health concerns such as obesity.

For many people, Malcolm said, the COVID-19 pandemic has created high levels of anxiety, stress and feelings of social isolation, which impacts a person’s weight, mental well-being and physical health. The pandemic has also interfered with the ability of Minnesotans to connect with their health care providers to address other health issues, she said.

"Obesity and other chronic health challenges have been a priority for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made progress more difficult,” Malcolm said. “Even as we work hard to address the impacts of the pandemic, we can’t afford to lose sight of the fact that those other health issues have not gone away.”

The health department is encouraging Minnesotans to safely find ways to work toward a healthy weight by being active, choosing healthy foods and connecting with friends, family and health care providers to come up with a plan to “make progress toward greater well-being.”

Poor physical or mental health prevented 41.8% of Minnesotans who are obese from engaging in their usual activities, according to self-reports and analysis of Minnesota’s 2020 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. This means Minnesotans who say they are obese were 1.4 times as likely as other Minnesotans to report that poor physical or mental health prevented usual activities for 14 or more days in the past month, according to analysis and the BRFSS survey.

“Turning the tide on obesity will require addressing well-being in all sectors of our communities,” Malcolm said. “We also need to acknowledge the existing health disparities and health inequities and address the social determinants of health, such as poverty and lack of health care access if we are to ensure everyone can be as healthy as possible.”

Fortunately, the state has some allies in battling those extra pounds – programs such as the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, known as SHIP, #StayConnectedMN, as well as Minnesota Department of Health programs focused on mental well-being, resilience learning and suicide prevention.

Nationally, the adult obesity rate rose to 31.9%, up from 31.4% in 2019.

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Let’s all make a conscious effort to keep those numbers at bay for the next survey.

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