Adult Obesity Rises in US

June 29, 2010

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In the past year, adult obesity rates increased in 28 states, while only the District of Columbia (DC) saw a decline, according to [pdf] a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

South Leads Obesity
“F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future” indicates that nationally, two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and teens are currently obese or overweight. Rates of obesity continued to rise across the nation during the past year. Twenty-eight states saw a significant increase in obesity, and 15 of these states experienced an increase for the second year in a row. Eleven states experienced an increase for the third straight year. Only in DC did obesity rates significantly decrease over the past year.


Last year, only four states, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia, had obesity rates more than 30%. This year, eight states now have adult obesity rates more than 30%: Mississippi (33.8%); Alabama (31.6%); Tennessee (31.6%); West Virginia (31.3%); Louisiana (31.2%); Oklahoma (30.6%); Kentucky (30.5%); and Arkansas (30.1%). Michigan was the only non-Southern state to rank in the top 10 for obesity rate (tied with North Carolina for the 10th spot, 29.4% obesity rate).

Mississippi also continues to have the highest rate of physical inactivity and hypertension and has the second highest rate of diabetes. Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia also rank in the top 10 for the highest rates of diabetes, physical inactivity and hypertension.

West, Northeast Have Lowest Obesity Rates
Currently, only 10 states and DC have obesity rates less than 25%, compared with 19 last year. In Colorado, the only state less than 20%, rates of obesity increased from 18.9% to 19.1%.


Blacks, Latinos Have Higher Obesity Rates
Adult obesity rates for blacks and Latinos are higher than those for whites in nearly every state. Adult obesity rates for blacks are at or more than 30% in 43 states and DC. In nine states, the rates exceed 40%. Meanwhile, adult obesity rates for Latinos are at or more than 30% in 19 states. Only one state, West Virginia, has an adult obesity rate for whites greater than 30%.

However, state-specific obesity rates for different ethnic groups varied substantially, ranging from 25.8% in Nevada to 44% in Wisconsin for blacks, from 20.6% in DC to 39.5% in Tennessee for Hispanics, and from 9% in DC to 31.2% in West Virginia for whites.

Obesity rates by sex, race and ethnicity also varied greatly. State-specific rates ranged from 22.8% in New Hampshire to 49.2% in Mississippi for black women, from 17.9% in South Carolina to 38.7% in North Dakota for Hispanic women, and from 8.1% in DC to 30.9% in West Virginia for white women.

State-specific rates for men ranged from 18..8% in Vermont to 42.2% in Kentucky for black men, from 19.3% in Wisconsin to 51.5% in Tennessee for Hispanic men, and from 9.7% in DC to 32% in Arkansas for white men.

Americans Smoke Less, Gain Weight
Americans smoked less but continued gaining weight during the last five years, according to the annual Harris Poll on key health risks. In 2010, 17% of US adults said they smoked cigarettes, down from 20% in 2009 and a five-year high of 24% in 2007. By comparison, in 1983, 30% of US adults smoked cigarettes.

Unlike tobacco usage, the percentage of US adults who are overweight and obese has risen in the past five years. Using the widely accepted Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement, in 2010, 64% of US adults had a BMI score of 25 or more, indicating they are overweight. Another 29% of US adults had a BMI of 30 or more, indicating obesity. This means a combined 93% of the US adult population has a body weight above healthy limits.

About the Data: This study compares data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) phone survey. Data from three-year periods 2006 to 2008 and 2007 to 2009 are compared to stabilize the data by using large enough sample sizes for comparisons among states over time, as advised by officials from the Centers for Disease Control. In order for a state rate to be considered as having an increase, the change must reach a level of what experts consider to be statistically significant for the particular sample size of that state.

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