Californians are increasingly overweight, obese and diabetic, a study by UCLA researchers found. The epidemics are worsening throughout the state and disproportionately affect ethnic minorities, the poor and the least educated.
More than half of the adults in the state – 15.3 million – are overweight or obese, and more than 2 million are diabetic, according to the report released yesterday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
In 2001, 19.3 percent of California adults were obese and 6.2 percent were diabetic. By 2007, 22.7 percent were obese and 7.8 were diabetic, the study found.
American Indians, blacks and Latinos have the highest rates of obesity and diabetes, but the rates have increased significantly among whites and Asians as well.
UCLA Center for Health Policy Research
Lower income and less educated Californians have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, the report said. Nearly 28 percent of adults living below the poverty line are obese, compared to about 20 percent of those with higher incomes. Adults without high school education were twice as likely to be obese and three times more likely to be diabetic than those with college degrees.
Obesity and diabetes were most prevalent in some of California's poorest areas. The rate of obesity is highest in Imperial County, where 39.6 percent of adults are obese. San Francisco had the lowest obesity rate, at 11.8 percent of adults. Diabetes is most prevalent in Tulare, affecting 12.1 percent of adults, and lowest in San Luis Obispo, with 3.1 percent of adults diagnosed as diabetic.
Because of its large population, Los Angeles County has by far the most residents who are obese (1.7 million) and diabetic (642,000). But the prevalence of the conditions vary greatly among the county's communities. Obesity rates range from as low as 12 percent in West LA to as high as 34 percent in South LA, and diabetes rates range from 6.2 percent in West LA to 10 percent in East LA.
The risk of diabetes increases with age, a factor that researchers adjusted for in their report. Even so, the report suggests living in the United States could increase the risk: Immigrants who live in the country 15 years or more have diabetes rates more than three times higher than those who have lived here less than 10 years.
Teens in California are heavier and fatter too: 970,000 adolescents – 27 percent – are obese or overweight.
Obesity and diabetes are closely related conditions that significantly increase the risk for heart disease and other serious medical problems.
California and local governments have enacted a number of policies in recent years to address the obesity epidemic, which comes with a hefty price tag: Researchers estimate that diabetes costs the state $24 billion a year.
The state requires chain restaurants to display calorie information on menus. Nationwide, many restaurants and vending machines will soon have to post calorie counts under new federal health care laws. Sodas and sugary drinks are banned from school campuses in California.
But researchers said their findings underscore the need for more policy and environmental changes that promote physical activity and healthy eating.
The study recommends that school facilities for physical activity be available after school and on weekends, and that communities increase the availability of parks and improve recreational spaces. It also says neighborhoods with low-income residents and ethnic minorities need better access to healthy food options, such as farmers markets and community gardens.