MILTON — Santa Rosa is currently the seventh healthiest county in Florida, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute's latest County Health Rankings. However, the county's rate of adult obesity has risen.

In 2005, 24 percent of Santa Rosa adults reported having a body mass index of 30 or more. Currently, Santa Rosa is up to 28 percent. BMI is based on your weight and height. Generally, the higher the BMI, the more body fat a person has. BMI is often used as a screening tool to decide whether a person’s weight may put them at risk for health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Anything lower is underweight; anything higher is overweight. A person is considered obese if their BMI is 30 or more.

CURBING UNHEALTHY HABITS

“Obesity is one of the issues we are addressing in our Community Health Improvement Plan,” Deborah Stilphen, operations analyst at the Florida Department of Health in Santa Rosa County, said.

To address the rate of adult obesity and the complications that can come from that, such as Type 2 Diabetes, the Department of Health offers the National Diabetes Prevention Program.  

The program, endorsed by the CDC, teaches skills those at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes need to make the kinds of healthy food choices and lifestyle changes that can delay, or even prevent, the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, according to Stilphen.

In 2013, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that 27.6 percent of American citizens were obese. The OECD estimates that 75 percent of the American population will likely be overweight or obese by 2020.

The latest figures from the CDC show that more than 34.9 percent (or 78.6 million) of U.S. adults are obese; so are 31.3 percent of children and adolescents ages 10-17.

Bobby Kitchens of Milton thinks weight issues are due to forming bad habits at a young age when it comes to eating right and being active.

"I think this is an issue among grades 4-8," Kitchens said. "Once habits form, it's hard to break them. (Such poor habits include) playing video games and snacking, for instance, instead of playing football in the yard with parents or swimming, if possible."

Obesity has been cited as a contributing factor to approximately 100,000–400,000 deaths in the U.S. per year.

This has increased health care use and expenses, costing society an estimated $117 billion in direct (preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to weight) and indirect (absenteeism, loss of future earnings due to premature death) costs. This exceeds health-care costs associated with smoking and accounts for 6-12 percent of national health care expenditures in the United States.

ONE WOMAN'S STORY

Although the stigma of obesity is having an unhealthy lifestyle, in many cases it can't be controlled. Health issues, such as hypothyroidism or autoimmune diseases, lead to weight gain that is difficult to control even with healthy eating and exercise.

"I have been sick for quite a few years with autoimmune issues and struggle with my weight," Cynthia Staudt Licharowicz of Milton said. "On my way to losing it, though."

Licharowicz, 48, said her health problems started as a young girl with severe allergies causing a total respiratory failure after an allergic reaction.

As a child, she had issues eating because her teeth were loose, causing her to lose a lot of weight. As an adult, her health problems came and went, causing her weight to fluctuate. She also had trouble breathing.

According to Licharowicz, after she had her first child, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and put on hormone replacement therapy. She gained approximately 40 pounds over a couple months and was put on diet pills.

The pills caused her to develop heart-related issues, but she did lose approximately 80 pounds.

When she attended college, stress caused her to gain weight again, causing her body other problems, said Licharowicz. She was recently diagnosed with autoimmune issues including postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

Licharowicz recently began seeing a doctor in Niceville who discovered endocrine, cardiac and respiratory problems. She is currently on a low-carb diet and has eliminated gluten, some dairy and all processed foods.

"I am finally losing weight and getting my energy back," Licharowicz said.