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Obesity numbers up almost 9 percent in Wisconsin

The Pierce County Health Department recently reported Wisconsin’s percentage of obese adults has risen from 30.7 percent to 39.4 percent, with 29.8 percent of Pierce County adults in that group.

These percentages show that nearly four out of every 10 adults in Wisconsin and three out of every 10 adults in Pierce County are obese.

With an increase of 8.7 percent in the state, nutritionist Brittany Mora of Pierce County Public Health attributes the spike in obesity numbers due to new testing for obesity in adults.

“Our previous numbers were based on individual self-reported heights and weight,” Mora said. “In contrast, these new findings are based on actual measured height and weights.”

An initiative called Healthier Together, a group collaboration between St. Croix County, River Falls Area Hospital, Western Wisconsin Health, Hudson Hospital and the New Richmond Hospital, will be joined by Pierce County. According to a news release, the group is “working towards developing strategies to improve health.”

Mora said a group like Healthier Together could help extensively in making Pierce County a healthier community.

“It is a great opportunity for the hospitals and counties to share resources and ideas to better impact the local community,” Mora said.

Deb Lindemann, the St. Croix County Health Officer, said that Healthier Together takes a look at what people in the community see as the biggest problems like “obesity, smoking, or alcohol.” The initiative began in 2008 and focuses on three health priorities.

Those three are: mental health, alcohol abuse and obesity. Lindemann said that establishing healthier habits when children are younger is the best way to get started in reducing obesity rates.

Lindemann said schools will give out pedometers to students beginning in January 2017. From there, they will test students until 2019, to measure exercise and movement. Schools will also offer after school programs for physical fitness.

Lindemann stresses the biggest thing for kids to do: Be active.

“Humans need to be active,” Lindemann said. “Kids need to play, run and jump.”

As Pierce County has focused primarily on adults, Mora agrees that dieting would be difficult, especially in a community that has “limited resources.” She encourages eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals and remaining physically active through walking, gardening or dancing.

Overall, Mora hopes the new system of measurement and Healthier Together can get communities in Pierce County off to a good start.

“We hope that through this coalition we can make strides toward developing a community that makes it easier for people to be active and easier to make healthy food choices,” Mora said.

Lindemann called Healthier Together “sort of groundbreaking” and feels that schools are doing their best to get children to be active. Even Lindemann’s sister, a kindergarten teacher, tries to encourage brain breaks, where children take a break and do something involving physical actions.

“Schools try, but there’s a big demand on schools,” Lindemann said. “They’re trying to do their best.”

Along with Healthier Together, a nationwide initiative called Healthy People 2020 is a group trying to decrease the growing obese population by 10 percent in 2020. However, Mora questions if this goal is attainable.

“This would be a pretty extensive drop for Wisconsin based on these most recent findings,” Mora said.

She added the county doesn’t have a specific goal to reach at this time for finding ways to fight obesity, but hopes to “see a downward trend.”

For more information on Healthier Together, contact Piece County Public Health at 715-273-6755.


Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism.