TAMPA, Fla.-- A study on obesity rates in Florida shows Tampa Bay is at bigger risk than originally thought.

  • New Florida study shows obesity rate of 37.1 percent
  • 39 percent of women, 34.7 percent of men in FL are obese
  • Obesity Action Coalition recommends specialized care for severe obesity

It's fair to say that Blind Tiger Cafe owner Roberto Torres has incredible self-control.

The Tampa entrepreneur is always on the go, but his weight began to make that difficult.

"The doctor said, 'Hey you're kinda tipping the scales in the wrong way,'" he recalled.

He decided it was time for a change once he saw how successful his business was getting.

After all, he needed to keep up.

After applying for a business loan last September, he began to make some major lifestyle changes. 

"I was almost 260 pounds and now I'm down to 200 pounds and I lost it in three months," he said.

Despite being surrounded by endless lattes and pastries, he's kept the weight off.

He may be a success story, but that's not the case for many Floridians.

Researchers from University of Florida Health, Florida Hospital in Orlando and the Tampa-based nonprofit Obesity Action Coalition found the state's obesity rates may be 10 percent higher than originally thought.

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is widely cited, puts the overall obesity rate in the state at 27.8 percent.

The new Florida study shows a rate of 37.1 percent.

Researchers calculated Florida residents' BMI using height and weight numbers from the OneFlorida clinical database.

Data culled from more than 1.3 million adult Floridians' electronic health records was based on patients' objective measurements during at least two health care visits between 2012 and 2016, whereas height and weight information for the BRFSS was self-reported by respondents during the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual 2013 telephone survey.

The BRFSS data is believed to be skewed, since people in the survey could have over-reported their height and under-reported their weight.

In addition to a higher overall obesity rate, the research team found consistently higher rates than the BRFSS across all of the demographic groups they studied. Among those findings:

  • More women (39 percent) than men (34.7 percent) in Florida are obese. By comparison, the BRFSS reported higher overall obesity rates for men (28.8 percent) than women (26.7 percent).
  • Among racial and ethnic groups, blacks have the highest obesity rates. OneFlorida data revealed an overall obesity rate of 45.7 percent for blacks, followed by 37.1 percent for Hispanics and 35.2 percent for non-Hispanic whites. The BRFSS data reported lower obesity rates across nearly all racial and ethnic groups, including blacks (35.2 percent), Hispanics (28 percent) and whites (26.5 percent).
  • There is significant geographic variation in Florida’s obesity rates: A handful of counties had obesity rates between 25 percent and 29.9 percent, while more than 10 counties had obesity rates over 45 percent. Generally, the highest obesity rates were in the central, northern and Panhandle counties.
  • The Obesity rates in Prinellas are 39 percent, in HillBorough/Pasco 40 percent and in Polk 41 percent.

Obesity Action Coalition CEO Joe Nadglowski said things like lack of health care may be to blame.

The good news for Tampa Bay residents: he believes there are enough resources out there to help those living with obesity.

"We do have people with what's called the American Board of Obesity and Medicine certification in the Tampa Bay area, more here than in other places. That's one positive about being in the Tampa Bay community. You can find somebody who specializes in obesity care.

Nadglowski said not everyone needs to see a specialist. The OAC recommends specialized care for people with severe obesity.

Others, like Torres, can do it on their own.

Torres credits his dramatic weight loss to portion control, drinking lots of water, and walking up to six miles a day.

Even so, he says it's OK to indulge every once in a while.

After all, how can you resist a latte when you own a coffee shop?