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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 1:20 EDT

Obesity On The Rise In Many States

July 8, 2011

An annual report released by two health groups measured obesity rates over the last twenty years from every state in the United States.

“Obesity is one of the most challenging health crises this country has ever faced,” says Jeff Levi who is the director of Trust for America’s Health.

Based on data from 2010, the study found that twelve states topped 30 percent in obesity, with most of them being in the south. For the seventh year, Mississippi is once again at the top of the list for having the most obese residents, followed by Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana. Five years ago, the only state with an obesity rate above 30 percent was Mississippi.

Results from the study further found that racial and ethnic minorities, along with those who are less educated and make less money have the highest obesity rates.

Obesity rates for African-American adults topped 40 percent in 15 states, while obesity rates for whites topped 30 percent in only four states.

One third of adults who did not graduate from high school are considered obese. Meanwhile, about a fifth of those who graduated from college are obese.

The report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says that every state except for Colorado has an obesity rate over 20 percent, and no state reported a decrease in obesity.

But there is no victory dance for Colorado. Its 19.8 percent of adults considered obese would have been the highest rate in 1995.

According to the report, four years ago only one state had an adult obesity rate over 30 percent.

But over the last two decade, Americans have been eating less nutritious food and more of it, while at the same time, physical activity has fallen, Levi says.

“When you look at it year by year, the changes are incremental,” Levi says. “When you look at it by a generation you see how we got into this problem.”

However, not all is lost. The report found that only sixteen states reported an increase in their obesity rates, which is down from the 28 states that reported an increase last year.
The decline in states reporting increases in obesity “provides an encouraging sign that the movement to reverse the obesity epidemic is gathering force,” says senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Dr. Jim Marks.

However, he emphasizes, “Let me be clear: This is a small victory and it does not mean we can ease off the gas pedal.”

Levi believes that the slowing increase in obesity rates could be due to more public awareness of health issues and the attempts by government to give schools and consumers better access to healthier foods.

For example, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign has been gaining some momentum across the United States. Its goal is to promote healthier meals in schools and to keep kids active.

Furthermore, Farm-to-school programs offer fresh fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias; while some states have allowed food stamps to stretch further when used to purchase healthier foods, reports ABC News.

“If we’re going to reverse the obesity trends, willpower alone won’t do it. We’re going to have to make healthier choices easier for Americans,” Levi says.

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