Obesity Rates Stop Increasing But Still Worrisome

More than 20 percent of people in every state are obese, with the rate exceeding 35 percent in three states.
by | September 22, 2015
(David Kidd)

The obesity rates in adults remains steady from last year, according to a report released Monday. More than 20 percent of people in every state are obese, however, with the rate exceeding 35 percent in three states.

The annual ‘State of Obesity’ report, put together by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, finds that roughly 30 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese across the nation. Twenty-two states have an obesity rate of 30 percent or more.

“Twenty years ago, no state had a rate above 20 percent. Now no state is below 21 percent,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health in a press conference.

According to the report, someone with a body mass index of 30 or more is obese. The average American man is 5'8", so he would have a BMI of 30 at 200 lbs. The average American woman (at 5'3") is obese if she weighs more than 175 lbs.

Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia topped the list with the highest rate of obese adults, each slightly above 35 percent.

The states with high obesity rates often have many problems like “higher rates of poverty, traditionally unhealthier diets and lower educational attainment,” Levi said in an interview.

Twenty-three of the 25 states with the highest rates are in the South and Midwest. The South also has the highest rates of type 2 diabetes -- nine of the 10 with the highest rate in the South.

So for policymakers looking to tackle the problem within their state, Levi says there is “no magic bullet, but rather a wide range of things that can be done to create a healthier environment.”

“State officials should be looking at the physical education standard in schools. They should be looking where there are food deserts and helping corner stores supply healthier foods. They should be thinking about what kind of food is being served in schools,” he said.

Stopping obesity at the school-age is crucial to prevent it from happening in adulthood, the report states.

“If children enter school at a healthy weight, they’re more likely to maintain that healthy weight into adolescence and adulthood. That means working with parents before their children are born, and building on the progress we’re already seeing in the childcare setting,” said Abbey Cofsky, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Trust for America's Health has been publishing the 'State of Obesity' report since 2003, and this is the second year in a row that the number of states with a rise in obesity has been in the single digits--this year, only five states had a statistically significant uptick. Each year prior, the report saw the number of states with increasing rates of obesity hit double-digit numbers, according to Albert Lang, senior communications manager for Trust for America's Health.

The District of Columbia and Colorado came in with the lowest obesity rates, at 21.7 percent and 21.3 percent, respectively.

Still, an obesity rate above 20 percent isn’t encouraging, argued Levi.

“Our obesity rates are at unacceptable levels. We have a lot to overcome and there is a lot of work that needs to be done. But to see the rate of obese adults finally level off is a promising sign,” he said.