People in the U.S. are exercising more than in recent years; however, obesity rates continue to rise.

New research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington shows that even as physical activity increased between 2001 and 2009, so did the number of Americans considered obese.

“Obesity and risk factors from poor diets, smoking, and high blood pressure all are causing a drag on U.S. life expectancies,” a press release noted.

And due to an increase in obesity over the past 20 years, high body mass index is now the third-leading risk factor to health, after diet and tobacco use, according to The State of US Health, 1990-2010: Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors, published in July.

The highest increase in obesity for men was in Lewis County, Kentucky, which jumped from 28.9 percent in 2001 to 44.7 percent in 2009. For women in Berkeley County, South Carolina, obesity rates increased from 36.1 percent in 2001 to 47.9 percent in 2009, the press release noted.

“While lack of access to health care and poor quality health care are important factors behind life expectancy, community factors that support healthy eating and active living are also vitally important to health and well-being,” said David Fleming, M.D., director and health officer for Public Health–Seattle & King County. “The health system across the US has a critical role to play in community prevention efforts that will help people live longer and healthier lives.”

The exercise-obesity study results were published in Population Health Metrics in two studies—”Left Behind: Widening Disparities for Males and Females in US County Life Expectancy, 1985-2010″ and “Prevalence of Physical Activity and Obesity in US Counties 2001-2011: A Road Map for Action.”

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