Obesity Remains Rampant Across America

Two new studies present troubling picture overall with state-by-state disparities

THURSDAY, Sept. 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- More than 20 states have obesity rates topping one-third of their population, and six states saw a rise in obesity rates last year, according to two new reports on America's worrisome, widening girth.

The reports released Thursday -- one from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the other from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- tapped into government data and presented a sobering look at the nation's obesity epidemic.

"Obesity in America is at a critical juncture. Obesity rates are unacceptably high, and the disparities in rates are profoundly troubling," said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health. "We need to intensify prevention efforts starting in early childhood, and do a better job of implementing effective policies and programs in all communities so every American has the greatest opportunity to have a healthy weight and live a healthy life."

Being obese increases the risk of serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and some cancers.

The CDC report, based on nationwide self-reporting of height and weight in 2013, finds that obesity rates range from a high of 35 percent in Mississippi and West Virginia to a low of 21.3 percent in Colorado.

Only seven states -- California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana, Utah and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia -- have fewer than one-quarter of adult residents who are obese, the new CDC figures show.

The 20 states with obesity rates of 30 percent or more are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

The South and the Midwest had the highest prevalence of obesity at just over 30 percent. The Northeast had obesity rates of 26.5 percent and the West weighed in at just under 25 percent, the CDC said.

Adult obesity rates inched up last year in six states -- Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming -- and didn't come down in any, the Robert Wood Johnson/Trust for America's Health researchers said in their State of Obesity report.

Although the rate of increases is beginning to slow after decades of growth, "rates remain far too high," the researchers said in a news release.

Other important findings from their report: Nine out of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South.

The Baby Boom generation -- people between 45 and 64 years old -- are the largest of any age group: More than 35 percent are obese in 17 states and more than 30 percent in 41 states.

Poor people are more likely to be obese than higher-earning adults, with one-third who earn less than $15,000 annually qualifying as obese, compared with one-quarter of people earning $50,000 or more a year.

The number of severely obese adults has quadrupled in the past 30 years and topped 6 percent last year. Severe obesity is defined as having a body- mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher. BMI is a rough estimate of the percentage of body fat.

Blacks and Latinos have higher obesity rates than whites. Among black adults, obesity rates reached or exceeded 40 percent in 11 states, are at or above 35 percent in 29 states and are at or above 30 percent in 41 states, the researchers found. Among Latinos, obesity rates topped 35 percent in five states and 30 percent in 23 states. Adult obesity rates among whites exceeded 30 percent in 10 states.

Childhood obesity has leveled off and even declined in some areas, but significant racial disparities still exist. Nearly one-quarter of Hispanic children are obese compared to 20 percent among black children and 14 percent among white kids, according to the report.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about obesity and health risks.

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