Obesity rates steady, but still high

by Eric Schroeder
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Adult obesity rates increased in Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah in 2014.

WASHINGTON — Although still high, U.S. adult obesity rates remained mostly steady this past year, according to “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” a report issued Sept. 21 by the Trust for America’s Health (T.F.A.H.) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (R.W.J.F.).

The annual report found adult obesity rates increased in Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah in 2014. Rates of obesity exceeded 35% in three states, were at or above 30% in 22 states, at or above 25% in 45 states and were not below 20% in any state.

By comparison, during 2012, the rate of adult obesity exceeded 30% in 13 states, while 41 states had rates of at least 25%. Every state was above 20% during 2012.

As recently as 1991, no state had an obesity rate of more than 20%, and in 2000 no state was above 25%. In 1980, the national average of obese adults was 15%. Now, the national average of obese adults is above 30%.

Arkansas, at 35.9%, surpassed West Virginia (35.7%) and Mississippi (35.5%) to claim the top spot among worst rated states for adult obesity. Other states exceeding the 30% rate were Louisiana (34.9%), Alabama (33.5%), Oklahoma (33%), Indiana (32.7%), Ohio (32.6%), North Dakota (32.2%), South Carolina (32.1%), Texas (31.9%), Kentucky (31.6%), Kansas (31.3%), Tennessee (31.2%), Wisconsin (31.2%), Iowa (30.9%), Delaware (30.7%), Michigan (30.7%), Georgia (30.5%), Missouri (30.2%), Pennsylvania (30.2%) and Nebraska (30.2%).

Colorado once again was the best, coming in at 21.3% for a third straight year. The District of Columbia was the only other area below 22%, at 21.7%.

“Efforts to prevent and reduce obesity over the past decade have made a difference,” said Jeffrey Levi, Ph.D., executive director of the T.F.A.H. “Stabilizing rates is an accomplishment. However, given the continued high rates, it isn’t time to celebrate. We’ve learned that if we invest in effective programs, we can see signs of progress. But, we still haven’t invested enough to really tip the scales yet.”

Other key findings from the report include:

• Obesity rates differ by region, age and race/ethnicity. Seven of the 10 states with the highest rates were in the South and 23 of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity were in the South and Midwest.

o Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of diabetes were in the South. Diabetes rates increased in eight states: Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

o American Indian/Alaska natives had the highest adult obesity rate, 54%, of any racial or ethnic group.

o Nationally, obesity rates were 38% higher among blacks than whites, and more than 26% higher among Latinos than whites.

o Obesity rates were 26% higher among middle-age adults than among younger adults. Rates rise from 30% of 20- to 39- year olds to nearly 40% of 40- to 59-year-olds.

o More than 6% of adults were considered severely obese, which marked more than a 125% increase in the past two decades. Around 5% of children already were severely obese by the ages of 6 to 11.

o Among children and teenagers (2 to 19 years old), 22.5% of Latinos, more than 20% of blacks and 14.1% of whites were obese.

“In order to build a national culture of health, we must help all children, no matter who they are or where they live, grow up at a healthy weight,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the R.W.J.F. “We know that when we take comprehensive steps to help families be more active and eat healthier foods, we can see progress. Now we must extend those efforts and that progress to every community in the country.”

Earlier this year, the R.W.J.F. pledged to commit $500 million over the next 10 years to expand efforts to help all children grow up at a healthy weight.

The full report is available here.
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