By Mike Householder and Dan Kulin
WASHINGTON – Washingtonians don’t seem to be too surprised to learn that close to 24 percent of them are obese.
A tour of the food court in The Shops, located several blocks from the White House, found patrons dining on everything from hamburgers and fat-laden fries to fat-free yogurt.
Ann Michelle Cicotello, an architect from Cleveland Park, was eating french fries from Boardwalk Fries. “Fries are my weakness,” she said, somewhat sheepishly.
She said she has seen people exercising, but questions how well it is working.
“I see people in D.C. running all the time, but I don’t know how successful they are,” Cicotello said. “It seems to be more of a social thing.”
Peggy Carlson, who lives in the Cathedral Heights section of the city, said appearances can be deceiving.
“It just seems like more people are running and exercising because Washington has a national Mall to do that on,” she said. “It might just be because they’re more visible.”
And Osei Chandler, who was drinking an “all-natural, low- calorie” fruit shake from Bananas, said Washingtonians’ eating habits could be better. “I see people eating food walking down the street,” said the high school guidance counselor from Charleston, S.C.
A study, released Tuesday by The Coalition for Excess Weight Risk Education, carried mixed news for the nation’s capital. It said that while roughly a quarter of the residents are obese, the city has more svelte residents than 29 of the 33 most populated metropolitan areas in the country.
New Orleans ranked first on the obesity list, with more than 37 percent of its residents overweight.
Denver fared the best, with just more than 22 percent of its residents listed as obese.
Washington’s comparatively low obesity rate can be attributed to its residents’ strong willingness to stay fit, the study said.
William Washington, a Northeast Washington resident and front desk attendant at the Washington Sports Club in Dupont Circle, said organized activities can help fight the flab.
“A gym is definitely a motivation to work out,” he said.
Despite being lower on the list than most large metropolitan areas, Washington still has work to do, researchers said.
“Washington still has a high rate of obesity,” said Kathy Mulcahy, director of the Inova Diabetes Center in Fairfax, Va.
She said the city “has a high percentage of people in management and professional positions, where they are sitting down all day.”
Residents “know what they have to do to be healthy, but they don’t always have the time to do it,” Mulcahy added.
A third of American adults are classified as obese, the report said.
Obesity is the second leading preventable cause of death in the United States. It results in 300,000 annual deaths and contributes to diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer and stroke, the report said.
Obesity was determined using a body mass index, a measure that uses height and weight to determine health risk levels.
According to the index, an adult who is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 162 pounds or more is obese. And someone who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 188 pounds or more is obese.
In general, every inch of height allows for another five pounds of weight. Men and women were grouped together.
The report’s findings were based on data gathered in 1990 and 1993 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In each of those years, 20,000 people were interviewed from the 33 metropolitan areas. A statistical analysis was conducted to identify specific factors such as income, race and climate, which may contribute to obesity.
Interviews with residents of six cities – including the District – were then conducted to gain insights into food and lifestyle choices. Ninety-four people were interviewed in the nation’s capital.
The American Diabetes Association, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, the North American Association for the Study of Obesity and the American Association of Diabetes Educators make up the coalition that released the report. -30-