OAKLAND -- Nearly 70 percent of seniors, more than half of adults and a third of school-age children are overweight or obese, costing Alameda County billions of dollars each year.
A new report released Thursday details damaging health effects and makes recommendations for food accessibility and nutritional education.
Advised by the Public Health Commission, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, chairwoman of the county's Health Committee, commissioned the report that analyzed health and obesity information beginning in 2006.
"We want to have comprehensive data so that we can see what the main problems are so we can find the right solutions," Chan said. "I think everyone kind of knows instinctively that there's a problem with overweight and obesity."
Before officials can create an action plan based on the data, the Board of Supervisors needs to consider the report. The first of two hearings is on Monday.
The county will spend an estimated $134.7 million to treat obesity-related diseases this year. But that number does not reflect the total cost.
Health care spending and lost productivity associated with overweight issues cost the county an estimated $2.17 billion in 2006, according to the report, and that number is projected to have risen by as much as 28 percent between 2007 and 2011.
"You can see this is something that has been slowly but surely growing, and slowly but silently costing us billions and billions of dollars," said Dr. Muntu Davis, the director of the Alameda County Public Health Department.
Heart disease and diabetes were among the top 10 leading causes of death in Alameda County in 2010, and diabetes and metabolic or nutritional disorders were among the top 10 most common reasons for hospitalization of children between 2007 and 2011.
Obesity rates are still growing but at a slower rate, disproportionately affecting people of color and low-resource communities, such as East and West Oakland and parts of Hayward and Union City.
"Obesity is a very large problem," said Jennifer LeBarre, director of Nutrition Services at Oakland Unified School District. "Just like the report shows, Alameda County has a high obesity rate."
She said food accessibility is a major problem. In 2007, there were nearly five times as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores as supermarkets and produce vendors in the county.
The Oakland school district is expanding its two-year-old Food Redistribution Program, which takes healthy, unused food, such as fruits, from the cafeteria that by law would otherwise be thrown away and redistributes it to parents to take home or to community nonprofits.
Supervisor Chan's office has committed $15,000 to the program to purchase 10 refrigerators.
"A lot of people don't understand why it's bad to have two or three sodas," LeBarre said. "Instead of having the soda to drink at dinner because that's something you can easily buy at the corner store, they'll have the milk from the district."
Nearly 70 percent of the redistributed food is milk that has not reached its expiration date but cannot be used at schools.
The report cites sugary drinks as a main contributor to high overweight and obesity rates. A third of children and two-thirds of adolescents in the county drink one or more sugary drinks per day, which may be adding upward of 1,000 calories per week to their diets.
"Many people say that obesity is a matter of personal choice. We're here to say that it's really not," Davis said. "It's really related to the availability of affordable and healthy food, neighborhood safety in addition to the local economy. And those are things that are really not in individuals' control. There are lots of policy solutions that need to be in place, lots of practice solutions."