Obesity in U.S. adults by race, 1999-2012. Graphic: Trust for America's Health

By Sharon Begley; Editing by Ken Wills
4 September 2014

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Rates of adult obesity increased in six U.S. states and fell in none last year, and in more states than ever - 20 - at least 30 percent of adults are obese, according to an analysis released on Thursday.

The conclusions were reported by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and were based on federal government data. They suggest the problem may be worsening despite widespread publicity about the nation's obesity epidemic, from First Lady Michelle Obama and many others, plus countless programs to address it.

From 2011 to 2012, by comparison, the rate of obesity increased in only one state.

The 2013 adult obesity rate exceeds 20 percent in every state, while 42 have rates above 25 percent. For the first time two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, rose above 35 percent. The year before, 13 states were above 30 percent and 41 had rates of at least 25 percent.

Adult obesity rates increased last year in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming. [...]

Continuing a years-long trend, nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South. The West and Northeast had the healthiest BMIs, with Colorado boasting the lowest adult obesity rate, 21.3 percent.

Obesity also tracked demographics, with higher rates correlating with poverty, which is associated with lower availability of healthy foods and fewer safe neighborhoods where people can walk and children can play for exercise. For instance, more than 75 percent of African Americans are overweight or obese, compared with 67.2 percent of whites. [more]

Obesity rates reach historic highs in more U.S. states

Washington, D.C., 4 September 2014 – Adult obesity rates remained high overall, increased in six states in the past year, and did not decrease in any, according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, a report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The annual report found that adult obesity rates increased in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming.  Rates of obesity now exceed 35 percent for the first time in two states, are at or above 30 percent in 20 states and are not below 21 percent in any.  Mississippi and West Virginia tied for having the highest adult obesity rate in the United States at 35.1 percent, while Colorado had the lowest at 21.3 percent. 

Findings reveal that significant geographic, income, racial, and ethnic disparities persist, with obesity rates highest in the South and among Blacks, Latinos and lower-income, less-educated Americans. The report also found that more than one in ten children become obese as early as ages 2 to 5.

“Obesity in America is at a critical juncture. Obesity rates are unacceptably high, and the disparities in rates are profoundly troubling,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH.  “We need to intensify prevention efforts starting in early childhood, and do a better job of implementing effective policies and programs in all communities – so every American has the greatest opportunity to have a healthy weight and live a healthy life.”

Other key findings from The State of Obesity include:

After decades of rising obesity rates among adults, the rate of increase is beginning to slow, but rates remain far too high and disparities persist.

In 2005, the obesity rate increased in every state but one; this past year, only six states experienced an increase. In last year’s report, only one state, Arkansas, experienced an increase in its adult obesity rate.

Obesity rates remain higher among Black and Latino communities than among Whites: 

  • Adult obesity rates for Blacks are at or above 40 percent in 11 states, 35 percent in 29 states and 30 percent in 41 states.
  • Rates of adult obesity among Latinos exceeded 35 percent in five states and 30 percent in 23 states.
  • Among Whites, adult obesity rates topped 30 percent in 10 states.

Nine out of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South.

Baby Boomers (45-to 64-year-olds)* have the highest obesity rates of any age group – topping 35 percent in 17 states and 30 percent in 41 states.

More than 33 percent of adults 18 and older who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, compared with 25.4 percent who earn at least $50,000 per year.

More than 6 percent of adults are severely** obese; the number of severely obese adults has quadrupled in the past 30 years.

The national childhood obesity rate has leveled off, and rates have declined in some places and among some groups, but disparities persist and severe obesity may be on the rise.

As of 2011-2012:

  • Nearly one out of three children and teens ages 2 to 19 is overweight or obese, and national obesity rates among this age group have remained stable for 10 years.
  • More than 1 in 10 children become obese between the ages of 2 to 5; and 5 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds are severely obese.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities emerge in childhood (ages 2-19):  The obesity rates are 22.4 percent among Hispanics, 20.2 percent among Blacks and 14.1 percent among Whites.

Between 2008 and 2011, 18 states and one U.S. territory experienced a decline in obesity rates among preschoolers from low-income families.

“While adult rates are stabilizing in many states, these data suggest that our overall progress in reversing America’s obesity epidemic is uneven and fragile,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO. “A growing number of cities and states have reported decreases in obesity among children, showing that when we make comprehensive changes to policies and community environments, we can build a Culture of Health that makes healthy choices the easy and obvious choices for kids and adults alike. Going forward, we must spread what works to prevent obesity to every state and region, with special focus on those communities where rates remain the highest.”     

The State of Obesity reviews existing policies and issues high-priority recommendations for making affordable healthy foods and safe places for physical activity available to all Americans, such as focusing on healthy food financing, improving nutrition and activity in schools and child care settings, limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids, and improving the built environment to support increased physical activity.  In addition, for this year’s report, TFAH and RWJF partnered with the NAACP, Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children, and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to identify more effective strategies for implementing obesity-prevention policies in Black and Latino communities. 

Recommendations, which were based on a series of in-depth interviews with public health experts in Black and Latino communities around the country, included:

  • Expanding access to affordable healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity by increasing resources for programs, connecting obesity-prevention initiatives with other ongoing community programs, and other approaches;
  • Providing education and addressing cultural differences to both improve people’s knowledge about nutrition and physical activity and make initiatives more relevant to their daily lives; and
  • Making sustainability, community input, involvement and shared leadership top priorities of obesity-prevention initiatives from the outset.

The State of Obesity (formerly known as the F as in Fat report series) is the 11th annual report produced by TFAH and RWJF, with support by a grant from RWJF. The full report, with state rankings in all categories and new interactive maps, is available at http://stateofobesity.org. Follow the conversation at #StateofObesity.

* (45-64 Year Olds, includes most Baby Boomers, who range from 49-67 year olds)

Adult obesity = Body Mass Index of 30 or more; **Severe obesity in adults = BMI of 40 or more. 

Childhood obesity = BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of same age/sex; Severe obesity in children = BMI greater than 120 percent of 95th percentile for children of same age/sex


Based on an analysis of new state-by-state data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, adult obesity rates by state from highest to lowest were:

Note: 1 = Highest rate of adult obesity, 51 = lowest rate of adult obesity.

1. (tie) Mississippi and West Virginia (35.1%); 3. Arkansas (34.6%); 4. Tennessee (33.7%); 5. Kentucky (33.2%); 6. Louisiana (33.1%); 7. Oklahoma (32.5%); 8. Alabama (32.4%); 9. Indiana (31.8%); 10. South Carolina (31.7%); 11. Michigan (31.5%); 12. Iowa (31.3%); 13. Delaware (31.1%); 14. North Dakota (31%); 15. Texas (30.9%); 16. (tie) Missouri and Ohio (30.4%); 18. Georgia (30.3%); 19. (tie) Kansas and Pennsylvania (30%); 21. South Dakota (29.9%); 22. Wisconsin (29.8%); 23. (tie) Idaho and Nebraska (29.6%); 25. (tie) Illinois and North Carolina (29.4%); 27. Maine (28.9%); 28. Alaska (28.4%); 29. Maryland (28.3%); 30. Wyoming (27.8%); 31. Rhode Island (27.3%); 32. (tie) Virginia and Washington (27.2%); 34. Arizona (26.8%); 35. New Hampshire (26.7%); 36. Oregon (26.5%); 37. (tie) Florida and New Mexico (26.4%); 39. New Jersey (26.3%); 40. Nevada (26.2%); 41. Minnesota (25.5%); 42. New York (25.4%); 43. Connecticut (25.0%); 44. Vermont (24.7%); 45. Montana (24.6%); 46. (tie) California and Utah (24.1%); 48. Massachusetts (23.6%); 49. Washington, D.C. (22.9%) 50. Hawaii (21.8%); 51. Colorado (21.3%).

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. For more information, visit www.healthyamericans.org.

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

New Report Finds Adult Obesity Rates Increased in Six States


  1. Anonymous said...

    An examination of the food that people purchase (obese and not obese) reveals quite a lot why this is happening.

    The entire food supply sold at supermarkets is poisoned with thousands of chemicals, additives, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics and of course, the hated GMO food crops.

    This is the crap people are eating, and it's having a huge impact upon obesity.

    The price of this crap food is also getting far worse (expensive), while wage-slavery struggle to live week to week. So they buy "cheaper" food in order to feed selves and family.

    Organic food, and whole food has shot up in price. Finding "good food" is now a serious task and not easily done in many locations. Our town carries very little, and it is very expensive.

    I eat a ton of food from my own food supply, it's cheaper and far healthier. Americans COULD eat better by shopping carefully, but if you notice what people put into their shopping carts, it's very unhealthy.

    It's all about profits from corporations like Monsanto and others who are creating legions of helpless, dependent people throughout the world. A sick population is easily controlled.

    The food people are being "forced" to buy isn't harmless. It's deadly.  


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