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Pittsburgh region getting rounder, suffering health problems |

Pittsburgh region getting rounder, suffering health problems

Tony LaRussa
| Monday, February 20, 2012 12:00 a.m

Despite efforts to get people to lose weight — from first lady’s Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity to the advice doctors dispense each day — the Pittsburgh region is getting rounder and suffering health problems as a result, according to a new study.

The Pittsburgh region’s obesity rate in 2010 — the last year for which data were available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — was 29.3 percent, compared with 28.9 percent in the previous year.

The findings are in a benchmark study, “Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow,” which studies how Pittsburgh ranks among 15 metropolitan areas in 10 key issues, including transportation, economy, environment, housing and health.

The obesity figures might be the result of the Pittsburgh region’s propensity to “lag behind” in national trends, Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole said on Sunday.

“A lot of people still refer to Pittsburgh as a steel town when, in fact, steel production no longer drives the local economy,” Cole said. “I suspect that our dietary habits may be a little bit more ingrained here, so we’re slow to pick up on the tread toward eating healthier and exercising more.”

The study found that Pittsburgh’s obesity rate in 2010 was fourth only to St. Louis, Kansas City and Detroit.

The study was done by Pittsburgh Today, a local research affiliate of the University of Pittsburgh that gathered statistics on several metropolitan areas, including Cincinnati, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit.

The Pittsburgh metropolitan area includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

As for as the rate of diabetes, the Pittsburgh ranking improved from third in 2009 to 10th in 2010. However, the improved ranking was “largely by default,” according to the study, which found that “diabetes simply rose more sharply elsewhere.”

In 2010, diabetics accounted for 9.9 percent of the region’s population, compared with 9.5 percent the previous year, the study found.

“There is a very strong relationship between being overweight and diabetes,” said Dr. Bernard Goldstein, professor of public health and former dean of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. “The more people you have who are overweight, the more people you are going to have who are diabetic.”

While a number of factors contribute to the region’s weight problem, diet is the greatest influencing factor, the doctor said.

“We’ve looked at the exercise issue, and we are not too bad with exercise,” Goldstein said. “If you accept that, then it’s more about how much and what we eat. When people ask me why Pittsburgh is different, I tell them that when I get my steak salad at a restaurant, it has french fries in it.”

On the plus side of health trends for the region, the percentage of adults who smoke dipped from 18.5 percent in 2009 to 17.2 percent in 2010, according to the report. The national rate of adults who smoke was 17.3 percent in 2010.

Patrick Reynolds, executive director of Foundation for a Smokefree America, based in Los Angeles, said reductions in the rate of smokers are the result of strong limits placed on smoking in the workplace and other public areas, taxes on tobacco products that increase their cost, and the availability of cessation and education programs.

“It’s been shown time and time again that the combination of these three factors leads to fewer smokers,” he said.

Additional Information:

How we fare

To view the entire benchmark study ‘Pittsburgh Today & Tomorrow,’ visit the website .

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, or via Twitter .

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