Study shows uptick in Utah's rate of adult obesity

(Stacie Scott/Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — As U.S. adult obesity rates held steady, Utah showed a slight increase, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Beehive State, which has among the lowest obesity, diabetes and hypertension rates in the nation, showed a slight increase in adult obesity from 24.1 percent to 25.7 percent last year.

Rebecca Fronberg, a program manager at the health department's Healthy Living Through Environment, Policy and Improved Clinical Care program, said it's hard to tell if the uptick is part of a larger trend or just a blip after several years of stable obesity rates.

"Overall, it's still a concern," Fronberg said. "We'd love to see a reduction in obesity. To date, we have not. It's continued to creep up on us."

Even with the uptick, Utah has the seventh lowest adult obesity rate in the nation — but if things don't change, Utah will look like its Southern and Midwestern neighbors who have adult obesity rates of 30 percent or higher by 2050, Fronberg said.

Obesity rates in the U.S. have leveled in recent years after more than doubling over the past 35 years.

Daniela Thomson, a West Jordan resident who has never had trouble maintaining her weight and never used to exercise, said she was caught by surprise when she gained 40 pounds after her first baby and couldn't lose it.

"It's kind of scary, with this day and age, it's so easy to lose yourself with all the junk out there," Thomson said.

For three years, Thomson struggled with low energy and self-esteem due to her weight, which grew to 187 pounds on her 5-foot-5-inch frame. Even her relationship with her daughter suffered.

"I would always have my husband play with her because I was too tired," Thomson said.

It wasn't until she joined a weight loss challenge and put down a $500 deposit that things began to change. The program required her to go to the gym for cardio and strength training five days a week, waking up at 4:20 a.m. to get to the gym by 5 a.m.

She lost 23 pounds in six weeks.

"I work with a lot of healthy people, and they've been the main motivation for me," said Thomson, whose cubicle is covered in motivational posters and whose co-workers at the Utah Safety Council recently encouraged her to do a group marathon.

Julie Roberts, a nurse practitioner at the Intermountain Healthcare LiVe Well Center Salt Lake clinic, said the key is to be realistic.

It's lifestyle. You want to be able to do it for life, so if you're doing some drastic measure to lose weight, that's really something that's not sustainable and actually tends to do the opposite.

–Julie Roberts, nurse practitioner

If you hate to cook, don't force yourself to cook. If you hate running, don't run, she said.

"It's lifestyle," Roberts said. "You want to be able to do it for life, so if you're doing some drastic measure to lose weight, that's really something that's not sustainable and actually tends to do the opposite."

To begin with, Roberts advised people eat a healthy breakfast with fiber and healthy fats, and to learn how to count calories and read nutrition labels. She also encouraged people to journal their daily achievements, like how many steps they were able to climb without running out of breath.

"Sometimes it's hard for people to recognize when they've made small changes that they do feel better," Roberts said.

Lastly, don't avoid any emotional and mental baggage that may have been holding you back, Roberts said. Ask yourself: When was the last time you felt healthy? Can you remember what that was like? Why has it been hard to change and eat right?

Study shows uptick in Utah's rate of adult obesity

Her clients have lots of different reasons. For some, it's stress from work or toxic relationships. For others, it's because of years of comparing themselves to other people and feeling that there's no point in trying to live up to unrealistic expectations.

"That chronic stress burden can be a huge barrier to someone having the mental energy to even devote to making lifestyle changes," Roberts said.

Fronberg said obesity rates won't change dramatically without a social shift — in the options that are offered in cafeterias, in the way companies market junk food, even in the socioeconomic factors that are linked to obesity.

She said that in Utah as in the U.S., obesity rates continue to show stark disparities along socioeconomic lines.

According to the Utah Department of Health, adult obesity rates continue to be significantly higher among minorities, including black and Hispanic populations. In the Pacific Islander community in Utah, nearly 43 percent are obese, compared with the state average of 25 percent.

Adult obesity rates also fall along geographic fault lines. In the Avenues, which has the lowest rate of adult obesity in the state, 12.1 percent of adults are considered obese. Meanwhile, in Magna, Kearns, Glendale and the eastern part of West Valley City — all in the top five areas of the state with the highest levels of adult obesity — 34 percent to 39 percent of adults are obese.

Contributing: Nkoyo Iyamba

Daphne Chen is a reporter for the Deseret News and Contact her at

Most and Least Obese States 2014

Top 10 Most Obese States

1. Arkansas (35.9)
2. West Virginia (35.7)
3. Mississippi (35.5)
4. Louisiana (34.9)
5. Alabama (33.5)
6. Oklahoma (33.0)
7. Indiana (32.7)
8. Ohio (32.6)
9. North Dakota (32.2)
10. South Carolina (32.1)

Top 10 Least Obese States

51. Colorado (21.3)
50. District of Columbia (21.7)
49. Hawaii (22.1)
48. Massachusetts (23.3)
47. California (24.7)
46. Vermont (24.8)
45. Utah (25.7)
44. Florida (26.2)
43. Connecticut (26.3)
42. Montana (26.4)


CDC survey:

Trust for America's Health:


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