According to the most recent Huron County Community Health Assessment (CHA), done in 2017, 67 percent of residents were either overweight or obese. A recent study by Dietspotlight further backed this up, adding that the average Huron County resident had to lose at least 73 pounds to be within a healthy weight and body mass index (BMI) range. That statistic is 16 percent higher than the state average of 63 pounds and 24-percent higher than the country average of 59 pounds.
What’s obesity look like in Huron County?
Obesity is defined as someone having a BMI of 30 or higher, resulting from genetics or lifestyle. According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, nearly 40 percent of adults in the United States are obese. About 34 percent of Ohio’s population is obese — ranking 11th highest in the nation.
Locally, men average a BMI of 39.5 and women come in at a BMI of 30.5. The typical weight of men is 245 pounds, with women weighing 170 pounds.
This is hardly a new trend though, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Obesity, defined as having a body mass index over 30, results from factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and access to food, the agency said. The prevalence of obesity has increased dramatically in the United States since the mid-1970s. More than one-third of adults, 39.8 percent (that’s more than 93.9 million people) and 18.5 percent (or 13.7 million) children and adolescents are obese.
From 2007 to 2017, the percentage of overweight adults in the county, went down 7 percent. However, it seems most of those people struggling with their weight continued to climb the scale. In the same time frame, the rate of obesity went from 34 percent to 40 — that’s 10-percent higher than both the state and national averages.
Ease and cost are king
Some in the area believe the rise in obesity is due in large part to convenience and cost.
In the 2017 CHA, 79 percent of Huron County adults said they ate out at restaurants or brought home take-out every week. About 67 percent of youths said at least one to two of their meals was eaten out weekly. Another 14 percent said that comprised at least three to four of their meals each week.
Parents listed taste preference, cost and the ease of preparation as the top three reasons for choosing the food they did.
T.J. Thomas works as the health, nutrition and wellness teacher at Norwalk High School. One of the requirements in her class is that students must go grocery shopping with their parents.
“It’s really great that after we start (learning about nutritional value) and all this stuff, the kids will start requesting, ‘Hey, can we get this instead of that?’” Thomas said. “One of the biggest things parents come back with though is ‘I would love to, but I can’t afford that.’ That’s probably the biggest thing around here is money. That’s a real struggle in our county.”
She said convenience and cost influence the students in her class to in their food purchases, causing them to purchase less healthy options.
“That to me is our No. 1 issue — the amount of sugar that we consume,” she said. “I see it in teenagers. That’s all they eat. The sugar problem is real. It’s cheap and it all goes back to what’s cheapest.”
A lack of education?
Health and life coach Amber Atkinson said from her work experience she believes the problem actually stems from “a lack of knowledge.” She said not only do young people not seem to understand how to make more nutritional choices, but she said parents too struggle.
“A lot of people don’t even realize they’re supposed to have protein in their diet,” she said. “Growing up, my mom would put spaghetti on the stove and that was enough. It was just spaghetti. I don’t think there’s enough nutritional education that parents take seriously. People don’t even want to reach out. It’s just easier to go buy microwave meals. ... I think we need to have the knowledge easily accessible to learn.
Atkinson recommended one quick and easy rule of thumb — make your plate filled halfway with protein, a quarter with carbohydrates and a quarter with vegetables. She suggested making meals fun and exciting for children.
Another misconception she said she sees with many of her clients is that “it costs too much.”
“A lot of parents think that eating healthy is too expensive, but they can find that it’s actually more affordable,” she said. “I’ve taken several if my clients to the grocery store to show them ‘This is what you could get. You could have filled your cart with $200 of junk or you can fill it with $200 of good food that’s going to last twice as long.’”
Atkinson said even if purchasing better-for-you-options initially seemed to be more expensive, in the long run it could save people money in doctor and medical bills that could result.
Obesity can lead to diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, hypertension and even heart disease. In Ohio alone, there are 732,000 cases of heart disease and it’s estimated to increase to 3.4 million by 2030, according to the USDA.
“Would you rather pay a tiny more now — if you pay more at all, I usually find I pay less — or would you rather pay a ton on doctor and medical bills later?,” Atkinson said.
Hannah Barry, who also works as a health and wellness life coach agreed, adding the old adage “you are what you eat.”
“(People are) just so busy that with everything they have to do to get a meal done, it’s just easier for them to go through the drive-thru or to heat something up in the microwave. And there’s no nutritional value in that,” she said. “What you put in your body is a reflection of how you feel. So if you eat like crap, you’re going to feel like crap.”
Thomas said the change needs to start in schools.
“Unless you take my elective class, that’s it, other than health class offered in eighth grade,” she said of what NHS offers students in nutritional education. “Health education, from a school-setting-wise, it’s not taught enough at all.”