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For Immediate Release:
July 22, 2003
For more information contact:
Maria Iacobo
213/240-8144 or 213/990-7107/pager

Obesity Rates Rise in Los Angeles County
Overweight, obesity account for $3.4 Billion in health care costs for county adults.

The rate of obesity in Los Angeles County adults continues to rise according to the latest Los Angeles County Health Survey (Survey). The percentage of adults who are obese jumped from 14.3% in 1997 to 19.3% in 2002. An additional 35% of county adults are overweight but not obese. “Obesity is epidemic,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and County Health Officer. “Anyone who is overweight is at increased risk of becoming obese. And overweight and obesity both increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and many types of cancer. High blood pressure is twice as common in adults who are obese and obese individuals have a 50 to 100 percent increased risk of death. ” Results of the 2002 survey indicate that those who are obese are much more likely to have been diagnosed with these chronic diseases as well as depression. In addition, persons who are obese are much more likely to report poor health and activity limitations. The survey is a periodic, population-based telephone survey that collects information on demographic and socio-economic characteristics, health status, health behaviors, and access to health services among adults and children in the county. The 2002-03 survey interviewed a random sample of 8,167 adults and 5,995 children between September 2002 and April 2003. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese.

Survey specifics Results show the obesity rate highest among African- Americans (31%), followed by Latinos (24%), Whites (16%) and Asians (6%). After controlling for differences in the age distributions of these four populations, the obesity rate among Latinos was just as high as the rate among African-Americans. “Since these rates are based on self-reports, they likely underestimate the true burden of obesity in the county’s adult population,” said Cheryl Wold, M.P.H., Chief of the Health Assessment Unit which studies the survey data. “The actual rates of obesity in the county could be much higher than 19.3%.” Overweight and obesity account for an estimated $3.4 billion in health care expenditures for adults in the county, based on expenditure data obtained from a national study of obesity costs. Health care spending related to obesity is approximately 9% of total health care costs, a rate that rivals tobacco-related health care costs. “Unless something is done to stem this epidemic, the county population is going to experience more severe health problems and even higher health care costs over the next several decades,” said Fielding.

What can be done? “It’s always important to emphasize healthy individual behaviors, such as diets high in fresh fruits and vegetables and regular physical activity; however, this epidemic demands that we look beyond individual weight control to how we as a society help all adults and children maintain healthy body weights” said Dr. Fielding. “There is important momentum in Los Angeles County and in California to curb the epidemic of obesity, focused primarily on children and adolescents.” For example, many schools are reevaluating their nutrition programs, a law banning soda sales in elementary schools was enacted by the California legislature, the County convened a Blue Ribbon Task Force which included several important recommendations. Overweight and obesity together are a complex public health issue; we need everyone working together—employers, businesses that sell and market food, schools, lawmakers, community groups, urban and transportation planners—to lower rates of overweight and obesity” said Dr. Fielding.

Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 3,800 employees and has an annual budget exceeding $600 million.