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Nearly Half of U.S. States' Adult Obesity Rates Increased This Year

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, July 2, 2009

If the U.S. requested a grade for how it was doing weight-wise among adults and children, it would probably be a failing grade, according to a new report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America 2009.

Overall, adult obesity rates increased in 23 states, but did not decrease in any state this past year. At the same time, the rate of obese and overweight children is at or above 30% percent in 30 states, notes the report released by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

For the fifth year in a row, Mississippi had the highest rate of adult obesity at 32.5%. However, four states were not far behind with rates above 30 percent: West Virginia (31.2%), Alabama (31.1%), and Tennessee (30.2%). Overall, eight of the 10 states with the highest percentage of obese adults are in the South.

On the flip side, the states with the least adult obesity were in the Northeast or West: Colorado led the list with the lowest percentage of obese adults at 18.9%, followed by Massachusetts (21.2%), Connecticut (21.3%), Rhode Island (21.7%), and Hawaii (21.9%).

“Our healthcare costs have grown along with our waist lines, said Jeff Levi, PhD, TFAH's executive director, in a statement. "The obesity epidemic is a big contributor to the skyrocketing healthcare costs in the United States. How are we going to compete with the rest of the world if our economy and workforce are weighed down by bad health?"

Overall, adult obesity rates now exceed 25% in 31 states and exceed 20% in 49 states and Washington, D.C. Two thirds of American adults are either obese or overweight. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20%.

The news is equally bleak for children as childhood obesity rates have more than tripling since 1980. Again, Mississippi had the highest rate of obese and overweight children (ages 10 to 17) at 44.4%. Eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of obese and overweight children are in the South.

The states with the lowest rates of obesity among children tended to be in the Midwest and West. They were: Minnesota and Utah had the lowest rate at 23.1%, followed by Oregon (24.3%), Montana (25.6%), and North Dakota, Connecticut, and Wyoming (tied at 25.7%).

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