Research shows US obesity rates high, stable

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – Adult obesity rates remained level in every state except Arkansas in the past year following three decades of increases. So claims F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2013, a report from the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). TFAH and RWJF collaborated on the report, which was supported by a grant from RWJF.

This report relays that 13 states now have adult obesity rates more than 30 percent, 41 states have rates of at least 25 percent and every state is above 20 percent. No state was above 15 percent in 1980; in 1991, no state was above 20 percent; in 2000, no state was above 25 percent; and in 2007 only Mississippi was above 30 percent.

There has been evidence since 2005 that the rate of increase has been slowing. Every state but one that year experienced an increase in obesity rates; in 2008, rates increased in 37 states; in 2010, rates increased in 28 states; and in 2011, rates increased in 16 states.*

"While stable rates of adult obesity may signal prevention efforts are starting to yield some results, the rates remain extremely high," said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, TFAH executive director. "Even if the nation holds steady at the current rates, Baby Boomers-who are aging into obesity-related illnesses-and the rapidly rising numbers of extremely obese Americans are already translating into a cost crisis for the healthcare system and Medicare."

"In order to decrease obesity and related costs, we must ensure that policies at every level support healthy choices, and we must focus investments on prevention," he added.

Key findings in the report include:

• Rates vary by region – Of the states with the 20 highest adult obesity rates, only Pennsylvania is not in the South or Midwest. For the first time in eight years, Mississippi no longer has the highest rate. At 34.7 percent, Louisiana is the highest, followed closely by Mississippi at 34.6 percent. Colorado ranked lowest at 20.5 percent.
• Rates vary by age – Obesity rates for Baby Boomers (45-to 64-year-olds) have reached 40 percent in Alabama and Louisiana)and are 30 percent or higher in 41 states. Obesity rates for seniors (65-plus years old) are more than 30 percent only in Louisiana. Obesity rates for young adults (18-to 25-year-olds) are less than 28 percent in every state.
• Rates by gender are now consistent – There was nearly a 6 percentage point difference between rates for men and women (men: 27.5 percent, women: 33.4 percent) 10 years ago. Now, rates are approximately the same (men: 35.8 percent, women 35.5 percent). Men's obesity rates have been increasing faster than women's for this last decade.
• Rates of "extreme" obesity have grown dramatically – in the past 30 years, rates of adult Americans with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher have grown from 1.4 percent to 6.3 percent-a 350 percent increase. Regarding children and teens (2-to 19-year-olds), more than 5.1 percent of males and 4.7 percent of females are now severely obese.
• Rates vary by education. More than 35 percent of adults ages 26 and older who did not graduate high school are obese, compared with 21.3 percent of those who graduated from college or technical college.
• Rates vary by income -- More than 31 percent of adults ages 18 and older who earn less than $25,000 per year were obese, vs. 25.4 percent of those who earn at least $50,000 per year.

Earlier this month, a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows 18 states and one US territory experienced a drop in obesity rates among preschool children from low-income families. The report provides state-specific trends in obesity rates among children ages 2 to 4 who are enrolled in federal health and nutrition programs, such as the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

A growing set of strategies that have improved health are in the report, but it also stresses they have yet to be implemented or funded at a level to reduce obesity trends significantly.

Key recommendations regarding strategies that should be taken to scale include:
• All food in schools must be healthy.
• Kids and adults should have access to more opportunities to be physically active on a regular basis.
• Restaurants should post calorie information on menus.
• Food and beverage companies should market only their healthiest products to children.
• The US should invest more in preventing disease to save money on treating it.
• America's transportation plans should encourage walking and biking.
• All consumers should be able to purchase healthy, affordable foods close to home.
The full report with state rankings in all categories and new interactive maps are available at http://www.fasinfat.org/.

Trust for America's Health is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing the US.


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