By Patrick Lowry, Editor, Hays Daily News
Do you recall the Kansas Department of Commerce’s advertising campaign that rolled out a decade ago? “Kansas: As big as you think” was meant to present a positive image of the state.
Turns out it might just have been a premonition. Kansas is now the 13th fattest state in the nation, according to a report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. With an obesity rate of 31.3 percent, Kansas continues its waddle to the top. Kansas joined only four other states in posting an increase between 2013 and last year.
In fact, Kansas’ obesity rate has risen every year since 1995 when the government began keeping records. That year, the state’s obesity rate was 13.5 percent according to Kansas Health Institute’s News Service.
“This is a significant percent of the population,” said Jeff Willett, vice president for programs and policy at the Kansas Health Foundation. “And we didn’t get to this point overnight. It took many years, and it’s going take time to turn this around.”
The rate of Type 2 diabetes is soaring along with the obesity numbers. Kansas has an incidence rate of 10.3 percent, more than double what it was 20 years ago.
The Trust for America’s Health report said the best way to reverse both trends was to work with children. More physical activity and better nutrition were cited as key.
“We’ve learned that if we invest in effective programs, we can see signs of progress,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health. “But, we still haven’t invested enough to really tip the scales yet.”
Interesting choice of words, although not as curious as those from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“We have evidence-based programs that have been proven to help reduce the rate in Kansas,” Sara Belfry, KDHE’s communications director, told Tribune News Service.
Belfry cited obesity-fighting efforts such as increased access to local healthy food through farmers markets, expanded access to hiking and biking trails, work site health programs, and support of physical activities, healthy meals and snacks in schools.
When the Tribune News Service reporter reminded Belfry of the steady increase in obesity rates in Kansas, “she said the programs have proven effective in other states.”
The governor’s “sun is shining in Kansas” approach to state issues rears its ugly head once again. Ignoring facts and claiming success when there is nothing to support such a position doesn’t work in the economic realm — or in public health.
Staying the course has not proven effective at all. KDHE might start by convincing the governor’s office that cutting food stamp usage in half will only exacerbate the problem. More resources are needed to deal with child obesity and diabetes rates, not less.
Kansas cannot afford to be as big as we are.
Providing breakfast at school is one of the most cost-effective steps schools can take to improve student wellness. Popular programs don’t cost much to implement and schools end up avoiding the high costs associated with remedial coursework and high absenteeism. In fact, it may cost schools up to $1,392 per student in additional instructional spending to offset the effects of obesity.