One in three Kansans suffers from obesity, increasing their risk for developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other serious health conditions, according to a just-released study from the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit health advocacy organization.

Kansas has the 12th worst obesity rate in the nation. At 34.4 percent, Kansas’ rate is slightly above the national average. In Kansas, as in the rest of the United States, obesity impacts some communities more than others. People with lower incomes and people of color struggle with higher rates of obesity than the general population.

Obesity has proven to be an extraordinarily complex public health issue. The solution seems simple: Get regular exercise, eat nutritious food, keep portions reasonable.

People know what reduces the risk of obesity, but encouraging individual changes in behavior has not led to a decrease in obesity rates. The United States is now in the midst of a 50-year trend of increasing obesity rates that have stubbornly risen in spite of a constant stream of new information about nutrition and encouragement to become more physically active.

The persistence of this public health crisis forces us to carefully consider the larger cultural issues and policies that make it hard for people to make healthy choices.

For many low-income families, access to the kind of nutritious food that experts say families should buy is challenging. Many low-income shoppers do not have the ability to get to a full grocery store and rely on convenience stores or small corner stores for grocery shopping, where access to healthy foods may be limited.

When they are available, fresh fruits and vegetables have a limited shelf life that makes many budget-conscious shoppers hesitant to bring them home.

The rates of obesity among children are particularly concerning. More than 18 percent of children have obesity, and children with obesity are more likely to have obesity as adults. Trust for America’s Health reports obesity is now one of the leading reasons young adults cannot qualify for military service.

Public policy that makes healthy food more affordable and available does make a difference.

Obesity rates for children who receive food assistance from WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) declined 2 percent between 2010 and 2016 as the program increased access to whole grains, fruits and vegetables. WIC also offers participants nutrition education, access to health care, referrals to social service providers and breastfeeding education.

The study recommended expanding WIC to more children, and other evidence-based approaches to reducing obesity, including sugary drink taxes, making communities more pedestrian-friendly, strengthening public transportation infrastructure and requiring insurance providers to cover preventative care.

Public policy that makes healthy choices more accessible is vitally important for a healthier Kansas.