States that spend more money on healthcare actually have higher obesity rates, according to a new University of Missouri study that suggests costly government-funded campaigns are not doing much to curb the nation’s weight problems.
The findings, published in the Association of Black Faculty Nursing Newsletter, suggest more needs to be done to promote more effective approaches to combat obesity — such as making sure healthy food retailers are available in low-income neighborhoods as alternatives to fast-food places and providing nutritional information in grocery stores.
"Teenage pregnancy, tobacco use, infant mortality and the spread of AIDS have been decreasing for years, so clearly marketing and prevention campaigns can have a positive impact on reducing social ills," said lead researcher Charles Menifield, a professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs at MU. "However, current efforts toward decreasing obesity seem to be fighting an uphill battle."
Menifield noted U.S. obesity rates increased from 12 percent of the nation's population in 1990 to 23 percent by 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But despite an increase in state public health funding to combat obesity, rates continue to rise — with the states spending the most on healthcare charting the greatest increases.
For his study, Menifield examined the impact of per capita healthcare expenditures, fruit and vegetable consumption, and physical activity on obesity rates at the state level. He found higher consumption of fruits and vegetables and physical activity were tied to lower obesity rates while higher rates of smoking correlated with higher obesity rates. He said the findings show that governmental programs must work toward solving many social problems at once, since they are often interrelated.
"The government cannot use a one-pronged approach to solving obesity," Menifield said. "[It] must use multiple avenues to solve the issue at every level of government. Obesity is clearly correlated with other social ills, like smoking, low birth weight and teen pregnancy; thus, the government should seek an agenda that seeks to reduce all of these social ills rather than focus on them individually."
Menifield recommended policy makers work to make sure low-income urban families have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and that additional nutritional information be provided on foods in grocery stores and restaurants. Employers can also help by providing free or reduced gym memberships to employees, he said.
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