It might be time to change Minnesota's state bird from the svelte loon to the Butterball turkey.
A recent survey of body weights nationwide by the watchdog group Trust for America's Health found that nearly 25 percent of Minnesotans are obese, and that more than 62 percent of us are overweight.
That still makes us only the 32nd-fattest state in the country. All of our neighbors -- Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas -- are porkier than us. Wa-hoo! Time for some celebratory brownies. With extra frosting.
Hold that order: We don't really have anything to gloat about. A quick overview of the numbers makes a future where most Americans resemble the huge, hover-chair-dependent blobs in the movie "Wall-E" seem not only plausible, but likely.
In 1988, fewer than 10 percent of Minnesotans were obese, said Cara McNulty, who manages the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) for the Minnesota Department of Health. By 2007, that figure had jumped to 25 percent.
How many pounds overweight would you guess someone needs to be to be considered obese? According to the body mass index (BMI) standard of measurement used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's only about 30, on average (depending on height).
So how many Minnesotans are considered morbidly obese?
"That's not a term we use," McNulty said.
To Dr. Mike Gonzales of the Minnesota Center for Obesity, Metabolism and Endocrinology, the study's findings are old news.
"We've been trending obesity rates for a decade, and every year there's a higher percentage," he said.
What has happened to the land of 10,000 fitness strategies? McNulty said it's hard to see change when it happens slowly.
"Look at how our lives have changed," she said. "Everyone sits in front of screens all day. People are trained to think that overconsumption is moderation, that fruits and vegetables don't taste as good as high-calorie, high-fat, overflavored, overprocessed foods."
This isn't a problem we can just Spanx away, people. The solution may be boiled down to four words: Eat less, move more. Now if only we could actually do it, not just repeat the mantra while checking Facebook and watching "Huge" over a bowl of potato chips.
"There's no doubt that we have an obesity epidemic in every state," Gonzales said. "There's also no doubt we have awareness, but we haven't been effective with intervention or prevention."
McNulty knows all about that one.
"You can recommend a bowl of kohlrabi over a Big Mac," she said. "But people will say, 'OK, first, what is kohlrabi, and second, do I have to cut it?'"
But there is hope. The Health Department's star pupils in Dakota County are taking the fat into their own hands and experiencing some success. Dakota County's SHIP staff members have established nine community gardens that provide fresh produce to food shelves and low-income families, helped replace a school soft-drink machine with one that dispenses several flavors of milk, helped start a healthy snack cart plan at schools, and is developing walking and biking paths to encourage people to move their feet on more than gas pedals.
Another recent finding doesn't jibe with the obesity survey: Minnesota was rated the third-fittest state by the American College of Sports Medicine's American Fitness Index.
"We still are a healthy state, but getting fatter threatens our status," McNulty said. "More people overweight means more diabetes, more hypertension, more cancer."
There you go: If you won't lose weight for your health, do it for state pride. Wellness initiatives are now part of the culture in many companies, and healthful choices are more available than ever before: Above the 12 rows of candy bars at the BP station on Lyndale at 36th in Minneapolis, there's a tray of apples, bananas and granola bars that people are actually buying.
"People think it's not their responsibility, but we have made our communities this way, and we can change them," McNulty said. "We've seen obesity rise in our lifetime. We can also see it come down in our lifetime."
Maybe we should change the state bird to the turkey -- an excellent source of lean protein.
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046