Despite concerted effort, Wisconsin’s obesity rate continues to rise

David Wahlberg:

A $10 million, five-year effort at UW-Madison to curb obesity in Wisconsin, which ended in December, met a stark reality: The state’s obesity rate, which is slightly higher than the national average, continued to go up.

Leaders of the Wisconsin Obesity Prevention Initiative, funded by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s Wisconsin Partnership Program, said they focused on creating systemic changes — such as encouraging bike paths and healthier snacks for kids — that could slow or reverse the uptick in coming years.

The national obesity rate has been climbing for decades, underscoring the pervasiveness of contributing factors such as unhealthy foods often being cheaper than healthy foods, increasing screen time among children and adults, and a lack of safe spaces to walk or exercise in many neighborhoods, health officials say.

“We need to fix the built environment and make our communities healthier for everyone,” said Dr. Vincent Cryns, a UW Health endocrinologist who led the obesity prevention initiative. Through the initiative, in Wisconsin, “we provided the infrastructure” to make such changes, he said.

Sara Lindberg, a UW-Madison researcher, works on the Wisconsin Health Atlas, a part of the initiative that continues to compile maps and track policies about obesity, neighborhood walkability, school wellness and other measures.