By SARA SAXTON and LILLY BROGGER/Montana State News

Fifty percent of the American population age 20 to 74 are projected to be obese by the year 3030, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  One-third of United States citizens are currently obese, according to the CDC. Montana has ranked in the bottom 10 of least obese states for the past five years.

Although Montana’s obesity rate suggests a healthy population, the number of people in the state considered to be obese has increased by 2.6 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

To be considered an obese person, the body mass index must be higher than 30. Among adults residents age 18 to 25, 16.5 percent are considered obese. Among people over the age of 25, an average of 27.6 percent are considered obese, according to the State of Obesity report.

In 2011, the state of Montana had an average obesity rate of 21.6 percent. Gallatin County ranked the lowest in numbers of obese people. Rosebud County ranked higher with an average of 36.9 percent.

Gallatin County is considered to be a very active community. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, the percent of people that reported no physical activity outside of their job was an average of 13.2 percent, whereas Rosebud County reported 27 percent. This trend of less active places having higher rates of obesity was also evident in Yellowstone County, Missoula County, Silver Bow County, Flathead County, Lewis and Clark County and Cascade County.

Wesley Lynch, a physician from the Department of Psychology at Montana State University studies obesity. He said that the major contributing factor to the increase in obesity rates is insufficient physical activity. He mentioned recent research suggesting that physical activity may actually decrease appetite.

“This is contrary to traditional logic which would suggest that we attempt to make up by eating calories burned by exercising. However, the data suggests that calorie losses are not made up immediately and may not be made up in the long-run, if exercise becomes a regular part of lifestyle,” said Lynch.

When ask why obesity is increasing, and is slated to continue to rise, Lynch said changes in lifestyle explain the increase in obesity.

“The cause of this long-term trend seems to be related to the continuing decrease in physical activity due for example to computers and cars, and increases in consumption of low-cost, high calorie, processed foods – most directly related to marketing by the food industry – leading to what has been termed the “toxic food environment,” said Lynch.

Anna Diffenderfer is the sustainable food and bioenergy systems program coordinator at MSU. She said there are many different things that contribute to being obese and that one specific factor cannot be attributed to the rise in the number of obese Americans.

Diffenderfer said that an, “unhealthy food system, sedentary lifestyle and society of convenience all play a major role in obesity rates.”

With convenient food becoming increasingly cheap, humans have slowly forgotten the importance of cooking and accounting for necessary nutrients.

“People do less cooking, especially from scratch, and our lives are so busy that it’s just easier to get pizza for dinner than to try to make something after work/school,” said Diffenderfer

Montana has supported programs through the MSU Extension that teach children the importance of nutrition. The current programs are called SNAP-Ed and EFNEP. These education programs are used throughout counties in Montana through [?], according to Diffenderfer.

“Many states around the country are reducing the size of their county extension services so we may be at an advantage in our rural communities as far as education goes,” said Diffenderfer.

Diffenderfer also said, “while we have many medically underserved areas in Montana, our public healthcare system still does a pretty good job of providing nutrition and health education courses around the state that reach a lot of people.”

Diffenderfer also points to agriculture as a possible explanation for Montana’s general health, “Montana is largely agriculturally driven so a lot of people have active jobs still, and the outdoor recreation opportunities draw health conscious people by nature to move here. Our population might be skewed a bit from national rates because of this.”

Nationally, no state has a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent. The Midwest has the highest rates of obesity with Arkansas having the highest at 35.9 percent. Among western states, Colorado and California have the lowest obesity rates, all according to the CDC.

While Montana ranks well compared to most states, obesity rates continue to rise and are predicted to continue this trend into the future.

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