Report shows US obesity rates remain stable - but high

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2015 - Adult obesity rates remained stable - but high -- in most of the country this past year, while increasing in Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico Ohio and Utah, according to the 12th annual State of Obesity report from the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Arkansas had the highest rate (35.9 percent), followed by West Virginia (35.7 percent) and Mississippi (35.5 percent), while Colorado had the lowest at 21.3 percent. Twenty-two states had rates above 30 percent. In 1980, no state had a rate above 15 percent, and in 1991, no state had a rate above 20. Now, nationally, more than 30 percent of adults, nearly 17 percent of 2- to 19-year-olds and more than 8 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are obese. 

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“Stabilizing rates is an accomplishment,” said Jeffrey Levi, TFAH's executive director, adding that efforts to reduce obesity over the past decade have made a difference. “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.”

Obesity, the report notes, puts some 78 million Americans at an increased risk for a range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It is also one of the biggest drives of health care costs, adding up to billions of dollars in preventable spending annually, leaders of TFAH and RWJF said in a letter accompanying the report.

But help is available. The report reviews key programs that can help prevent and address obesity by improving nutrition in schools, child care and food assistance; by increasing physical activity before, during and after school; by expanding healthcare coverage for preventing and treating obesity; and by making healthy affordable food and safe places to be active more accessible in neighborhoods.

The report shows that obesity rates differ by region, age and race/ethnicity:

Seven of the 10 states with the highest rates are in the South and 23 of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest.

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

American Indian/Alaska Natives have the highest adult obesity rate, 54 percent, of any racial or ethnic group.

Nationally, obesity rates are 38 percent higher among Blacks than Whites; and more than 26 percent higher among Latinos than Whites. (Obesity rates for Blacks: 47.8 percent; Latinos: 42.5 percent; and Whites: 32.6 percent.) 

Adult obesity rates are at or above 40 percent for Blacks in 14 states.

Adult obesity rates are at or above 30 percent in: 42 states for Blacks; 30 states for Latinos; and 13 states for Whites.

Obesity rates are 26 percent higher among middle-age adults than among younger adults― rates rise from 30 percent of 20- to 39- year olds to nearly 40 percent of 40- to 59-year-olds.

More than 6 percent of adults are severely obese - more than a 125 percent increase in the past two decades. Around 5 percent of children are already severely obese by the ages of 6 to 11. 

Among children and teens (2 to 19 years old), 22.5 percent of Latinos, more than 20 percent of Blacks and 14.1 percent of Whites are obese. 

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The report argues that it is easier and more effective to prevent overweight and obesity in children, by helping every child maintain a healthy weight, than it is to reverse trends later. The biggest dividends are gained by starting in early childhood, promoting good nutrition and physical activity so children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight.

It also points out that “healthy communities” can help people lead healthy lives, arguing that small changes that make it easier and more affordable to buy healthy foods and beverages and be physically active can lead to big differences. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York Academy of Medicine, and other experts have identified a range of policies and programs (for example improving school nutrition, physical activity, health screenings, walking programs) that can help create healthier communities. Lower-income communities often face higher hurdles, and need more targeted efforts, the report says.

"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 CEO of RWJF. "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."

This full State of Obesity report (formerly known as the F as in Fat report), with state rankings in all categories and updated interactive maps, charts and graphs, is available at http://stateofobesity.org

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