Obesity in Michigan
3:20 pm
Wed August 20, 2014

WSW: Michigan's "Weight Problem"

2009 file photo of a student participating in a program designed to reduce childhood obesity in Flint
2009 file photo of a student participating in a program designed to reduce childhood obesity in Flint
Credit The Associated Press

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan has completed a report examining the problem of obesity in Michigan, and some possible solutions. 

Citizens Research Council Research Associate Nicole Bradshaw told WMUK's Gordon Evans that some figures show that the state's obesity rate has possibly leveled off. But Michigan's adult obesity rate is tied for 10th highest in the country. For children, the state is closer to the national median. The report shows that obesity is a major problem in Michigan. 

Obesity rates vary by county in Michigan, Bradshaw says size of population is not much of a factor. Wayne County, the largest in the state and Barry County, one of the smallest in terms of population have similar obesity rates, above average. She says income seems to be linked to obesity. Bradshaw says the counties with lower obesity rates tend to be wealthier, while poorer counties have higher rates of obesity. 

The Citizens Research Council study looks at many different costs related to obesity. Bradshaw says treating obese people is expensive, which leads to higher insurance premiums. The Medicaid population has a higher prevalence of obesity, which increases cost to all taxpayers. But Bradshaw says there are other indirect costs such as lower worker productivity and on average poorer educational performance for obese children. 

Obese people have lower personal income. Bradshaw that's likely due to discrimination in the workplace. She says it's tougher for obese people to land a job and tougher to advance once they do get employed. But Bradshaw says there could also be a link back to childhood development and learning. 

As far as solutions, Bradshaw says most people are against obesity. But she says there is a big debate over how much of a role government should play. Bradshaw says there is big resistance to the government interfering with personal choices about what people eat or how much physical activity they take part in during their leisure time. Bradshaw says policies that allow people to make healthy choices are more likely to be viewed as the proper role of government. She says that could include ensuring access to fresh fruits and vegetables and sidewalks that allow people to walk more often. 

The Citizen Research Council report warns of unintended consequences from health policy decisions.  Bradshaw says that's included simply trying to get policy makers to think about what decisions related to obesity could mean in other areas.  She says that's especially true for things like taxes, spending and zoning policy.