Survey: New Mexico among the least obese states

Despite low national ranking, a quarter of NM residents unhealthily heavy

By Kendra Williams

ALBUQUERQUE N.M.−Almost a fourth of all New Mexicans are obese. As bad as that is, New Mexico ranks among the least obese states.

The obesity findings were released in March by the Gallup Well-Being “State of the States” survey.

The survey found 23.5 percent of New Mexicans have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher, a key measure of obesity. The finding puts New Mexico 44th on the list of most obese states. Topping the list are Mississippi, West Virginia and Delaware — in which more than a third of their populations are considered obese.

Nationally, the survey found 27.1 percent of Americans are too fat for their own good.

Notably, those numbers are self-reported and may be low. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures the national estimate is closer to 35 percent.

Obesity a growing problem

Obesity has plagued the United States for years in the form of adult and childhood obesity — leading to health and economic problems.

The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) states that 17% of children are obese.

Obesity is defined as a person’s BMI at 30 or higher. BMI can be calculated using a person’s height and weight, it is not an exact measurement of fat but is a general body fat indicator.

Click here to find your BMI

according to the Centers of Disease and Prevention, 34.9% of adults are obese, with growing numbers seen in New Mexico

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, 34.9% of adults are obese, with growing numbers seen in New Mexico

“There are several levels of obesity, obesity in children and obesity in adults, and that is a very big problem in society,” said Vicente Alvarado, a personal trainer and owner of UCT Direct Fitness Gym.

Higher among Blacks and Hispanics

Nationally, rates of obesity are highest in Non-Hispanic African-Americans at 47.8%.

They are followed by:

  • Hispanics (42.5%)
  • Non-Hispanic Caucasians (32.6%)
  • Non-Hispanic Asians (10.8%)

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the BMI rates of adult women were lower than men.

The CDC reports that higher income women have lower obesity rates then lower income women.

Women with college degrees also have lower obesity rates compared to less educated women.

Childhood Obesity

The CDC says that it is more likely that an obese child will become an obese adult.

However, the rates of childhood obesity have gone down among young children 2-9. This can be seen most evidently in children from low-income families. For the overall 2-19 age range, rates of obesity have remained constant since 2004.

In 2012, the New Mexico Health Department put together a BMI surveillance report that focused on children in elementary school. The report indicates that 13.2% of kindergarteners and 22.6% of third graders in New Mexico were obese.

Native-American children had the highest childhood obesity rates in New Mexico, 25.5% of students being obese. Followed by:

  • Hispanic children (12.9%)
  • Non-Hispanic Caucasian children (8.8%)

The national average is as follows:

  • Hispanic children (22.4%)
  • Non-Hispanic African-American children (20.2%)

The average healthy weight of a third grader is around 60 pounds; the average weight of New Mexico third graders was roughly 99 pounds.

Click here to read the full New Mexico Health Department BMI Surveillance Report

Health and Economic Concerns

Obesity is the result of consuming more calories than the body uses for physical activity. According to the CDC, obesity is the root cause of many diseases that are preventable. The list includes:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type-two diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Sleep apnea
  • Infertility

These health concerns are costly to the economy. An obese person will pay roughly $1,400 more on medical expenses compared to a person at a healthy weight.

In 2008 the annual medical cost of obesity was roughly $147 billion, according to the CDC. These rates come from direct causation, such as diagnoses and treatment services and indirect causation like morbidity and mortality rates.

Healthy Lifestyle

There are many campaigns that are geared towards reducing obesity. These tend to focus on changing a person’s overall lifestyle, not just diet and exercise.

“You have to meet them where they’re at,” says UNM Health Education Manager Malissa Lyons, “but you also have to find ways to tweak your program to encourage that continuous participation.”

Prominent national efforts include First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Lets Move” campaign for a healthy America. The campaign incorporates:

  • Healthy choices
  • Healthy foods in schools
  • Greater access and affordability of foods
  • Increasing physical activity.

The campaign focuses on children but has resources for all ages.

Similarly, the National Football League has “Play 60” that focuses on children incorporating activity into their daily routine. Play 60 encourages kids to incorporate at least 60 minutes of physical activity into their daily routine.

UNM Healthy Weight Program encourages lifestyle changes to fight obesity. (Graphic: UNM)

UNM Healthy Weight Program encourages lifestyle changes to fight obesity. (Graphic: UNM)

Locally, the University of New Mexico has the Student Health and Counseling Healthy Weight Program geared towards students on campus.

The Healthy Weight Program gives students the opportunity to work with nutritionists, personal trainers, and counselors in a group environment to lose weight and learn healthy eating habits.

Lyons says that the end goal of this program is for students to “gain knowledge of how to sustain these behavior traits all throughout the rest of their lives”.

Click here for more information about obesity and its causes and effects.

Kendra Williams is a junior at the University of New Mexico majoring in journalism. To see more of her work from her wordpress: kswudt93.

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