Ohio Department of Health aims to tackle adult obesity; Ohio ranks 7th in the nation

As the winter holiday season approaches, the Ohio Department of Health reminded residents to be mindful about what they’re eating and to try and stay active.

Ohio ranks seventh in the country for adult obesity prevalence, ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2022 38.1% of Ohioans had obesity,” he said.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index over 30.

“It’s a national problem,” Vanderhoff explained. “The CDC noted in 2022 that 22 states had an adult obesity prevalence at or above 35%. A decade ago, no states had a prevalence that high.”

Dr. Bartolome Burguera, chairman of the Endocrinology and Metabolism Institute at Cleveland Clinic, added obesity can cause other health issues to pop up as well, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, mental health issues, sleep apnea and more.

“Unfortunately everything goes together,” he said.

Burguera said the issue is people often prioritize other things — work, family and others — over themselves and their health.

“Seldom do we put our health at the top of our priorities,” he said.

There are five components people can focus on to help with excessive weight or to encourage weight loss: Nutrition, physical activity, appetite, sleep and stress.

People should work to eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each day, while also trying to get 30 minutes of activity.

Vanderhoff noted people don’t need to become triathletes or runners. Instead, they can go for a walk or take a bike ride.

Burguera also stressed the importance of getting at least seven hours of sleep and focusing on removing stress from their life. Often when people are stressed or having mental health issues, they eat more or eat less healthy food, he explained.

ODH is also working with communities across the state to make it easier for Ohioans to make healthier choices.

The Creating Health Communities program focuses on promoting healthy eating and active living.

“This can take on many forms from supporting the creation of community gardens or farmers markets to renovating an obsolete playground or building new sidewalks and bike trails,” Vanderhoff said.

The program has funded grants in 22 counties and is working with another 17 counties to help them apply for a Creating Healthy Communities grant.

The state also received a nearly $900,000 grant from the CDC for physical activity and nutrition. It focuses on expanding produce prescriptions, Vandheroff said.

A health care provider can prescribe produce to help treat a health condition. ODH then attaches funds so the patient can buy fresh produce from a farmers market or grocery store.

The CDC grant also enables the state to work with employers and make sure healthier options are available at the work site, whether it’s through vending machines or a cafeteria.

Vanderhoff noted some people may not have access to fresh produce in their neighborhood or don’t have a way to get to a farmers market or grocery store.

ODH added a food systems coordinator to identify these gaps and partner with local health departments and organizations to make healthier food more accessible.

The department is also working on an obesity action plan to look at what Ohio and other states are doing and what evidence shows is working.

“We then plan to create strategies that we hope will move the needle on that obesity prevalence number here in Ohio,” Vanderhoff said.