More than 63% of New York adults — about 8.4 million people — were overweight or obese in 2021, according to a survey released this week by the state Department of Health.
In addition, separate state data showed Long Islanders coming in at a slightly higher percentage.
The survey found that obesity statewide was higher by percentage among Black and Hispanic adults, disparities resulting from "systemic" issues.
"Disparities in obesity underscore the need to address social determinants of health, the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age, to remove barriers to health," according to the department's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System briefing.
WHAT TO KNOW
- 63.5% of New York adults were classified as overweight or obese, or 8.4 million people. And 64.9% of Long Islanders were classified as overweight or obese.
- Obesity was “more prevalent” among non-Hispanic Black New York adults, at 36.8% and Hispanics, at 33.5%.
- Factors contributing to the overweight and obesity rates, based on BMI, or body mass index, measure include “systemic or institutional barriers,” such as a lack of access to healthy, affordable foods, safe places for physical activity and health care services.
Disparities in obesity
The report listed factors contributing to the "persistent disparities in obesity caused by systemic and institutional barriers, such as the lack of access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages, safe and convenient places for physical activity and health care services."
Among New York adults, 63.5% were classified as overweight or obese: 29.1% listed as obese and 34.5% as overweight, according to the report. The prevalence of obesity among adult non-Hispanic Black New Yorkers was 36.8%; among Hispanic adults, it was 33.5%. Obesity was also "more prevalent" in adults living with a disability, the report said, at 38.1%, and 35.9% among adults living in rural parts of the state.
The department defined those with a BMI, or body mass index, of 25 to 30 as overweight, and those with a BMI of 30 or higher as obese.
The survey, based on a survey of 39,095 people, did not break out the statistics by county, but according to the latest Health Department's Community Health Indicator Reports dashboard, Long Island's overall overweight or obesity rate among "age-adjusted" adults was 64.9%, with 27% classified as obese. In Nassau, 60.5% of adults were listed as overweight or obese and 24.9% listed as obese. In Suffolk, 69.1% were listed as overweight or obese and 29% as obese.
Diet, exercise, access to healthy food
Obesity in New York was less prevalent among adults ages 18 to 24 (at 20.8%), adults with a college degree (22.8%) and adults with household incomes of more than $50,000 a year (27.3%), according to the survey.
"You have to think about what are the things that led to that outcome," said Martine Hackett, an associate professor and director of public health programs at Hofstra University. "When it comes to obesity, it has to do with diet and exercise. Why are those outcomes more challenging for Black folks? One of the things we can say is those lifestyle behaviors are influenced by where you live — the ability to have access to healthy food that's affordable, access to physical activities that are safe, and affordable is affected by where you live."
"First of all you have to acknowledge everybody doesn’t have access" to healthy foods or a safe environments, Hackett added. "Therefore, you’re going to have unequal health outcomes."
Hackett urged "community-wide solutions" to address the problem.
"You have to think about making the environment more inviting and supportive to get people to be more physically active, to have access to food that is nourishing and affordable," Hackett said. "And think about ways stress can be managed."
Family centered approach to weight issues
Amy Canterella, a registered dietitian at the Healthy Weight and Wellness Center at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, said they take a "family centered, intensive health behavior and lifestyle approach," using "kindness and empathy" to help families who may have faced stigma over weight issues.
"We're a judgment-free zone," Canterella said.
"We look at where do they live, where do they work, what do their kids have access to" in devising an individualized weight-loss plan, she said.
"Small, realistic achievable goals," Canterella added, like taking 15-minute walks as a family to increase physical activity, or devising "quick, healthy meals" to help working parents with limited time.
"One of the biggest barriers right now is probably financial constraints," Canterella said. "Healthier food typically costs more than food that’s poor in nutritional quality."
She would like to see more communities bring in farmers markets providing food at reduced prices.
"I personally would love to see more farm-to-school [programs], where farmers are providing produce for local schools, increasing a child’s access to fruits and vegetables," Canterella said.