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Kern County ranked fourth in highest rates of death from heart disease

“I am talking more about nutrition."
Posted: 4:36 PM, Feb 14, 2022
Updated: 2022-02-14 21:30:15-05
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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Public health leaders in Kern County say that 78% of adults here are either overweight or above the overweight mark and more Kern County residents die from diabetes than anywhere else in California.

The Public Health Department and local physicians say you can start your road towards better health now and avoid being part of these statistics.

This is definitely not something Kern County wants to be leading in, but for the past seven years, Kern has ranked fourth in the highest rates of deaths due to heart disease. A local doctor said demographics and socioeconomic status are playing a role.

“There are a lot more Hispanic communities here, and also African American communities here. We have seen there is an increase in obesity prevalence in those communities,” said Dr. Parthiban Munnainathan, Omni Family Health.

Kern County historically has had high poverty rates, high unemployment rates and has many rural communities who are often in areas without access to healthy foods.

Dr. Munnainathan said excess weight leads to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which if not regulated, can lead to a slew of other problems.

“With high blood pressure and high cholesterol, you can have increase rates of heart attacks and strokes. With diabetes if you have that for 20 years, then you can need dialysis, you can have nerve damage, eye damage.”

Dr. Munnainathan said they are seeing more younger people, about 15 years old, start suffering from these chronic diseases, which he attributes to that lack of access.

“I am talking more about nutrition, access to healthy foods, and also access to safe environments where children can play around outside, steady jobs so that families are available to teach their children about healthy eating, and also be able to prepare food for them.”

That is why the Public Health Department is launching a campaign reminding people of the resources they offer to Kern residents, like their food rescue program.

“It rescues fresh wholesome food from schools and restaurants and then it distributes it to our community free of charge. So, if you are looking to make healthier choices within your home but have difficulty accessing fresh and healthy foods or affording fresh and healthy foods. We encourage our community members to take advantage of this program and look for a distribution site near them,” said Brynn Carrigan, Director of Kern County Public Health.

They also offer free training plans for families.

“'Know your numbers program', which is a program that provides free health screenings, free physical fitness classes, free nutrition classes. It is a 6-week program, it travels throughout Kern County.”

That ‘know your numbers program’ is currently running in Oildale and Delano.

COVID’s Impact

While some communities statistically have higher rates of excessive weight, chronic diseases and lack of access to healthy foods, COVID exasperated that situation and showed how critical it is to lead a healthy lifestyle.

“This pandemic just compounded some of the issues that really lead to chronic diseases, being isolated, trying to stay home as much as possible, we are not out exercising as much as we were before. And now is the time for us to be in pristine health,” said Carrigan.

Doctors learned during the pandemic, that having a chronic illness does not make it easy when battling other health issues.

Carrigan added that the data results they saw out of Kern County, found similar results. That many overweight patients had more severe COVID cases.

Dr. Munnainathan believes children spending more time indoors in the last two years corresponds with the 3% increase of overweight children across the country.

He explained that not only is this an issue for the chronic diseases that often come with having excessive weight like diabetes and heart disease, but it also takes a toll on the child’s mental health.

“So, we are seeing children with obesity have higher instances of anxiety and depression and as they get older this is not going to get better unless this is looked into.”

The Public Health Department has three programs offering fresh foods for those who often cannot afford healthy groceries, free nutrition, and exercise programs. This is to break down barriers many families here in Kern County face and get more community members on track to a healthier lifestyle.

23ABC In-Depth

As mentioned, certain groups struggle with health problems like obesity more than usual. Take a look at America's overall struggle with obesity, according to the CDC.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

  • In 2017–2018, the age-adjusted prevalence of obesity in adults was 42.4%, and there were no significant differences between men and women among all adults or by age group.
  • The age-adjusted prevalence of severe obesity in adults was 9.2% and was higher in women than in men.
  • Among adults, the prevalence of both obesity and severe obesity was highest in non-Hispanic black adults compared with other race and Hispanic-origin groups.
  • The prevalence of severe obesity was highest among adults aged 40–59 compared with other age groups.
  • From 1999–2000 through 2017–2018, the prevalence of both obesity and severe obesity increased among adults.

Obesity is associated with serious health risks. Severe obesity further increases the risk of obesity-related complications, such as coronary heart disease and end-stage renal disease. From 1999–2000 through 2015–2016, a significantly increasing trend in obesity was observed. This report provides the most recent national data for 2017–2018 on obesity and severe obesity prevalence among adults by sex, age, and race and Hispanic origin. Trends from 1999–2000 through 2017–2018 for adults aged 20 and over are also presented.

Were there differences in the prevalence of obesity among adults by race and Hispanic origin in 2017–2018?

The prevalence of obesity was lowest among non-Hispanic Asian adults (17.4%) compared with non-Hispanic white (42.2%), non-Hispanic black (49.6%), and Hispanic (44.8%) adults. Non-Hispanic black adults had the highest prevalence of obesity compared with all other race and Hispanic-origin groups.

Among men, the prevalence of obesity was lowest in non-Hispanic Asian (17.5%) compared with non-Hispanic white (44.7%), non-Hispanic black (41.1%), and Hispanic (45.7%) men, but there were no significant differences among non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic men. The prevalence of obesity was lowest among non-Hispanic Asian women (17.2%) compared with non-Hispanic white (39.8%), Hispanic (43.7%), and non-Hispanic black (56.9%) women, and prevalence among non-Hispanic black women was higher than all other groups.

Non-Hispanic black women had a higher prevalence of obesity than non-Hispanic black men. There were no significant differences in prevalence between men and women among non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Asian, or Hispanic adults.