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slides: Worcester County Obesity Levels Going Up

Thursday, August 08, 2013

 

Worcester County women may be living longer and working out more, but they're still gaining weight, according to health statistics gathered by the University of Washington and recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. For Worcester County women, obesity rates rose to 32.6 in 2011, a rate increase of 6.5%. Statewide, obesity rates for women had the same increase of 6.5%, but remain lower than Worcester County rates at 31.1. Nationally, obesity rates for women rose 6.4% to 36.1.

Despite the weight gain, between 1985 and 2010 life expectancy for local women has risen 2.9 years to 81.7 years, somewhat lower than the life expectancy for women statewide but above the national average. Statewide, life expectancy for women is up 3.9 years to 82.4, while nationwide life expectancy is up 3 years to 80.8.

“I think that our longevity is attributed to a lot of actual medicine that’s come along the way,” said Dr. Michael Hirsch, president of the Worcester District Medical Society and Interim Worcester Public Health Commissioner. “We’ve come to understand geriatric medicine a lot better so we can preserve and prolong life a lot more effectively.”

Worcester County women: moving more, living longer

The rise in life expectancy for women could also be due in part to an increase in activity levels. In 2011, 53.5% of Worcester County women reported getting at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, a 4.1% increase since 2009. Statewide levels were a little higher, with 55.7% of women reporting the same level of activity, although nationwide only 52.6% reported being active.

“Over the past several years our female membership has increased substantially,” said Joe Santa Maria, general manager of Worcester Fitness. “I attribute this to our group fitness program and our personal training department.”

The rise in female membership, Santa Maria said, has sparked innovation in the fitness field. “Women are not seeking typical call and response type offerings,” he said. “The most exciting thing about this growth in female memberships over the years is the momentum it gives Worcester Fitness to create challenging and effective classes.”

Worcester County men: longer lives, but more obese and less active

The same conclusion cannot be drawn for Worcester County men, whose life expectancy rose significantly along with obesity rates, while activity levels fell. Between 1985 and 2010, life expectancy rose 5.4 years to 77.4 years, 0.2 years lower than the statewide average but 1.6 years above national numbers. Obesity rates also rose to 32.5 for Worcester County men in 2011, a rate increase of 6.3%. The statewide rate of obesity for men rose 7.1%, bringing the statewide rate to 31, lower than the national rate of 33.8.

The apparent disconnect between lowered activity and increased obesity against an increase in life expectancy may be a question of timing, according to Hirsch. “I think the obesity issue has not hit yet on the mortality end,” Hirsch said. “It’s certainly hitting on the morbidity end with the rise in diabetes, orthopedic injuries related to carrying around extra weight, and mental wellness issues like body image, depression, and increased risk of suicide.”

Activity rates for Worcester County men declined slightly by 0.9%, but men remain more active than women overall. 58.6% of Worcester County men reported getting at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. That puts Worcester County men slightly below statewide activity levels, but above national levels.

Larger obesity patterns statewide

Overall, these Worcester County statistics reflect statewide and national trends. Massachusetts remains slightly healthier than national averages, as does Worcester County, although its life expectancy and activity levels remain lower than statewide numbers. Obesity rates remain slightly above statewide rates.

The majority of Massachusetts’s counties experienced more significant rises in life expectancy than did Worcester County. Life expectancy for women in Norfolk County rose 4.3 years, and for men 6.5 years. In Franklin County, life expectancy for women rose 3.5 years and for men 5.7 years. Activity rates statewide also mirrored Worcester County numbers. In Norfolk County, activity rates for women rose 2.6%, while rates for men dropped 2.7%. In Franklin County, activity rates for women rose 1.1%, and fell 4.9% for men. Obesity rates rose in both counties as well.

No Massachusetts’ counties made the top or bottom of the national survey of counties. Marin County, California and Montgomery County, Maryland lead the pack with the life expectancy for women at 85 and 84.9 years respectively. At the bottom of the list are Perry County, Kentucky and McDowell County, West Virginia with the life expectancy for women at 72.7 and 72.9. Curiously, only one of the top or bottom counties for life expectancy for men matched those for women. Leading for men were Fairfax County, Virginia and Gunnison County, Colorado both at 81.7 years. On the bottom were McDowell County, West Virginia and Bolivar County, Mississippi at 63.9 and 65 years respectively.

To see more details about Worcester's obesity, activity, and longevity, see the slides, below.

 

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