By ALLISON MIRIANI
Capital News Service
LANSING — A report released this month showing that Americans aren’t exercising may not be a big shock in Michigan, where the percentage of overweight people is above the national average.
The government report, released by the National Center for Health Statistics, says that seven in 10 adults don’t exercise regularly and nearly four in 10 aren’t physically active at all.
The number of overweight adults in Michigan has been increasing, according to a report by the Michigan Department of Community Health. The percent of the state’s adult population that is overweight has increased from 26.2 percent in 1989 to 37.1 percent in 2000, according to the DCH.
In 1998, the median overweight percentage for all states was 32.4, about 2.4 percent less than Michigan’s rate of 34.8 percent. Diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure are associated with obesity.
Brenda Reeves, the director of health recreation and wellness at Grand Valley State University, said those statistics are not surprising.
“When the new report comes out, it is supposed to show that 40 percent of the population is overweight,” Reeves said. “There is a direct correlation: 40 percent of adults aren’t physically active at all.”
There may be many causes for Michigan’s high ranking in obesity. One factor is the transportation available.
“We don’t have communities laid out in ways that encourage walking and biking — we are a car-dependent state,” said Geralyn Lasher, director of communications for the DCH. “Many people don’t walk the extra few blocks because they don’t have to.”
It is estimated that once you get in your car, it only takes nine minutes to get to a fast-food restaurant, according to Reeves.
Another factor increasing the odds for Michigan residents is the climate.
“We have a long winter,” said Dr. Kenneth Musson, president of the Michigan State Medical Society. “Maybe people don’t get out as much as those in states with other climates.”
Dr. Musson, who practices in Traverse City, said people should have regular physical exams. Many people are not even aware they have a problem that could have been prevented, Musson said.
However, Lasher added that although Michigan has one of the highest obesity levels, it is a national issue. She said there is not a large difference in the percentages between all the states at the top of the list.
“This is something that is absolutely a national issue,” Lasher said. “As a nation we are definitely grappling with this.”
Many factors affect the entire U.S. overweight levels. The changes in serving sizes may be one aspect.
“Serving sizes are now two-to-four times what they used to be,” Reeves said. “People are unconscious or unaware with what they are doing, which leads to overweight.”
“Portion size has gotten very distorted,” Lasher said. “When we go to restaurants, we need to stop that way of thinking that this is a normal amount.”
The Michigan Restaurant Association recommends that people eat half their meal and save the other half as leftovers.
“It is a catch-22 for restaurants,” said Kim Ohlemacher, director of communications for the MRA. “They want to give their customers more for their money and give them the value, but they also don’t want to insinuate that people should eat all of the meal.”
However, Ohlemacher said, there are no statistics to indicate that portion sizes are getting larger. More people are asking for doggie bags than previously because of the economy and calorie watching, according to Ohlemacher.
Seventy percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 and 61 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 said they sometimes order a larger portion so they will get enough to take home for another meal, according to the MRA.
Other factors contributing to the overweight trend may be social, such as gathering with friends and eating and drinking, Lasher said. Another reason may be that people are not eating balanced diets that include fruits and vegetables.
Combating the overweight trend may take a big helping of work. The DCH is trying to alert people to the dangers and proposes taking small steps for weight loss.
“Everyone doesn’t need to go out and purchase an expensive gym membership if we all can incorporate it into our daily routine; simple things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator,” Lasher said.
Other important steps to reduce the unhealthiness may be more education and public awareness.
“We are at the point where we need to saturate the market with the importance of being physically active,” Reeves said. “If we never make people think about it, if we never challenge people, then nothing will change.”
Simply requiring one year of physical education is not enough, said Mike Langley, a physical education teacher at Romeo High School. The school requires one year of physical education, including 20 weeks of physical education, 10 weeks of swimming and 10 weeks of health lessons.
“In some places you must take it every year,” Langley said. “To go to school four years and only require one semester of physical education is not enough.”
Langley said students are “far less active” now than in previous years.
Reeves also stressed the importance of being physically active in the schools.
“We need to advocate a daily physical education period,” Reeves said. “I think businesses also need to take a little responsibility in providing incentives and resources for their employees.”
Dr. Jeffrey Kovan, the director of sports medicine at Michigan State University, agrees that employers should take responsibility and also said that insurance carriers should create reimbursements or incentives for people to stay healthy.
“People want instant gratification and exercising is not instant, it takes time and persistence,” Kovan said. “People need incentives more than just feeling better.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By ALLISON MIRIANI