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Health

Plump Pennsylvania outweighs national average

| Saturday, July 19, 2008

The good news is that Pennsylvanians are not as fat as people from Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and other Southern states.

The bad news: We're not far behind.

More than one in four adults here is obese.

And we gravitate toward massive sandwiches smothered in coleslaw, while going "healthy" often means dining on salads that are more steak and french fries than lettuce and tomato.

"It's a pretty challenging and daunting problem we have," said Deb Galuska, associate director for science in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Galuska and her colleagues released a study Thursday saying many Americans are fat.

In Pennsylvania, 27.1 percent of adults are obese, according to the report.

The national average is 25.6 percent, meaning Pennsylvania has the 18th-highest obesity rating in the country. Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama lead the way with adult obesity rates above 30 percent.

More bad news: The problem is growing.

In two years, the adult obesity rate has risen almost 2 percent nationwide. And the obesity rate has only risen -- never once dropping -- in every CDC study conducted since the 1960s, Galuska said.

Obesity can lead to a number of health problems, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department.

The solution is simple, he said.

"Increased physical activity (and) better diets," Cole said. "This is really nothing new."

Half of all Pennsylvanians do not get enough exercise, and only one in four eats the daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables, according to the CDC report.

French fries do not count as a veggie, said Galuska, who works out of the CDC's Atlanta headquarters. When told that Western Pennsylvanians often put fries in salads, she said: "You mean mixed in with the lettuce• Really?"

The rising obesity rates are terrible news for the CDC, which set a goal for all 50 states to lower adult obesity rates to 15 percent.

In this study, every state failed. Colorado, with an 18.7 percent obesity rate, came closest.

"It's going to be very difficult to actually reach the goal of 15 percent," Galuska acknowledged. "We need to at least turn the tide."

Moderation is the key, Cole said.

"I was at Primanti Bros. (Thursday) night, and I had a steak salad with fries, but I'm not going to eat that tonight, tomorrow or the next day," he said. "Nothing is wrong with having an occasional treat. But the average person may be having fried foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you just can't eat that kind of food all the time.

"If every meal is like that, you're going to have to suffer the consequences," he said. "It will take a toll."

At Primanti Bros. in the Strip District yesterday, Sheryl Sutphen tucked into a sandwich piled high with meat, coleslaw and fries. She said she checked any concern over caloric intake at the door.

"This is a special treat, you're not going to do this every day," she said, adding, "It does have all the major food groups in one sandwich."

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