Research Feature

The Undeniable Association: Diet and Ratcheted-up Health Risks


cookies and candy

In Ohio, more than one in every three children—and about two in three adults—are overweight or obese, due in large part to the what types of food they have greatest access to, which are generally inexpensive, highly processed, and high in sugar.

The proclamation "Fruits and Veggies: More Matters" by the Centers for Disease Control and Promotion (CDC) is backed up by compelling evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help fend off common conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers.

Respected studies indicating such a connection between nutrition and health include the Harvard-based Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study by the National Institutes of Health.

In Ohio, more than one in every three children-and about two in three adults-are overweight or obese, according to a 2008 Ohio Family Health Survey. The survey, conducted by the Center for Children's Health and Policy at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, with colleagues from the University of Cincinnati, found that:

  • Ohio's obese kids are more than four times as likely to have diabetes, nearly twice as likely to have limited ability to do things, and nearly twice as likely to have asthma.
  • Ohio's obese adults are more than five times as likely to have diabetes, nearly 2.5 times as likely to have hypertension, and about twice as likely to have had a heart attack.

"For multiple reasons, people who live in food deserts are more vulnerable to obesity and obesity-related chronic illnesses," says Leona Cuttler, MD, the William T. Dahms Professor of Pediatrics, director of the Center for Child Health and Policy at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital and lead author of the Ohio Family Health Survey Report "Obesity in Children and Families Across Ohio."

Some factors, according to Cuttler: the lack of available and affordable healthy foods and lack of adequate opportunities for exercise in some neighborhoods. "Addressing the issue of food availability is a critical factor in obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases," says Cuttler, but by no means the only one. "We didn't get into the epidemic by any single cause, and we won't get out of it through any single action."