Diet, Exercise Will Lower Obesity Rates in Tompkins County

By Steven Brasley and Jackie Eisenberg

Health officials in Tompkins County say proper diet and exercise are how local obesity rates will remain low, in light of a recent study projecting the future obesity rate in the State of New York.

A woman works out on an elliptical at the Ithaca City Health Club.

The study, released in September and conducted by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, predicts New York will have an obesity rate of 50.9 percent by 2030. This is more than double the most recent estimated state obesity rate of 24.5 percent, determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011.

The report also estimated that if New York residents lowered their Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) by 5 percent by 2030, New York could save more than $40 billion on health care costs, and prevent more than a million New York residents from contracting obesity-related diseases. Working closely with personal physicians is a good first step toward reducing an individual’s BMI, said Laura Segal, a representative of the Trust for America’s Health.

See related: A Day at Ithaca City Health Club

Reducing consumption of sugary drinks is one way for Tompkins County residents to lower their BMIs, said Theresa Lyczko, director of the Tompkins County Health Promotion Program. Another way is to take advantage of some of the many nature trails in the area for hiking, biking, and running.

Comparing the results of the study to recent research, “Tompkins County is better [off] in terms of obese and overweight kids in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program,” Lyczko said. WIC is a program that provides nutritious foods and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and post-partum women and their children. Lyczko’s fact comes from a 2008 study by the New York State Department of Health, which said that 13.2 percent of Tompkins County children in the WIC program were obese, compared to the state-wide rate of 14.5 percent.

Adults in Tompkins County are more active than adults in other New York counties, data from the Department of Health’s study also shows. It says 85.3 percent of Tompkins County adults participated in leisure time exercise in the past 30 days, a percentage that is much higher than the estimated statewide rate of 76.3 percent.

But the numbers still do not put Tompkins County health officials at ease, Lyczko said.

“Tompkins County still has to be concerned about issues of obesity,” she said. “We have programs in the community to address obesity.”

Many people in Ithaca do take the time to focus on weight loss through exercise. About 80 percent of people who come to his gym are looking to either lose or maintain their weight, said Franklin Henry, General Manager of the Ithaca City Health Club. Ithaca residents are much healthier than people in other regions of Central New York, Henry said.

“In comparison to surrounding communities such as Cortland, Binghamton and Elmira, I think [Ithaca’s] pretty much aware of what healthy living is,” said Henry.

Healthy diet and exercise is the best, and the only, way to lower a person’s BMI, Henry added.

“I don’t know how you’re going to be physically healthy without some type of exercise,” he said. You don’t have to come to the gym, but you need to be active.”

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