Obesity Rates Are Highest in These Nine States



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Obesity rates continue to grow, particularly in the South and Midwest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least 35% of adults in nine states reported being obese last year, up from three states in 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

There were no states with that level of obesity in the adult population in 2011. 

The data comes from the CDC’s latest Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which polls residents on a variety of health factors.

The nine states where more than 35% of adults are obese are Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia. Higher obesity levels are more concentrated in the South and Midwest, according to the CDC.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The state with the lowest level of obesity was Colorado, where 23% of the population reported being obese. Mississippi and West Virginia tied for the highest rate with 39.5% of the population considered obese. Regardless of whether they ranked high or low in 2018, obesity levels in all three states have gradually increased overtime. In 2011, 20.7% of Colorado residents said they were obese, compared to 34.9% in Mississippi and 32.4% in West Virginia.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of higher than 30. The number is calculated through a formula that takes into account a person’s weight and height. A person who is 5’9” tall would be considered obese if he or she weighs more than 203 lbs. 

Previous studies have found that where you live can contribute to obesity. 

A 2018 study of military families by the University of Southern California and the Rand Corporation sought to determine whether families who moved to military installations in counties with high obesity rates would become obese themselves. The researchers considered factors such as access to gyms and grocery stores.

They found that living in an area with higher obesity can be a social contagion.

“In other words, living in a community where obesity is more common can make sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy eating and overweight or obesity more socially acceptable,” said Ashlesha Datar, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Social Research at USC.

Obesity is considered one of the biggest drivers of healthcare costs in the United States, with between $147 billion to $210 billion paid out annually in related costs.

The CDC data found noticeable differences in obesity levels when broken down by race and education attainment. In two states, West Virginia and Kentucky, more than 35% of white adults were obese. Meanwhile, in 29 states and Washington, D.C. more than 35% of black adults were obese.

Obesity levels were highest for people without high school degrees (35%) and lowest for college graduates (24.7%).

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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