Obesity rates remained stable from 2014 to 2015 in all but four states where the rates improved and two where they increased, according to a report released on Friday.
"The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America 2016," released Friday by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is an annual report based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
The report shared that nationally nearly 38 percent of adults are obese (defined as those with BMIs of 30 or higher) while almost 8 percent of adults are extremely obese (define as those with BMIs of 40 or higher). Nationally, 40.4 percent of women are obese while 35 percent of men are obese.
The four states in which obesity rates declined were:
- Minnesota at 26.1 percent
- Montana at 23.6 percent
- New York at 25 percent
- Ohio at 29.8 percent
The two states in which obesity rates increased were:
- Kansas at 34.2 percent
- Kentucky at 34.6 percent
No state has an obesity rate of less than 20 percent. Colorado's obesity rate was the lowest at 20.2 percent. By comparison, 30 years ago in 1985, no state had an adult obesity rate of more than 15 percent.
Today, four states have obesity rates of 35 percent or more:
- Louisiana at 36.2 percent
- Mississippi at 35.6 percent
- Alabama at 35.6 percent
- West Virginia at 35.6 percent
The report also shared how different racial and ethnic groups compare:
- 36.4 percent of white adults are obese
- 48.6 percent of black adults are obese
- 42.6 percent of Latino adults are obese
- 12.6 percent of Asian Americans are obese
Differences exist based on education levels:
- People who did not graduate from high school had an obesity rate of almost 33 percent (based on data from 2008-2010)
- People who graduated from college or technical school had an obesity rate of 21.5 percent (based on data from 2008-2010)
Difference based on income levels were:
- 33 percent of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese (based on data from 2008-2010)
- 24.6 percent of adults who earn at least $50,000 per year are obese (based on data from 2008-2010)
The report noted that certain recent policy changes could help improve the obesity rates in states. The recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act recently allows schools with a high percent of students from lower-income families to be eligible for federal funding for physical education classes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture not only updated the nutrition standards in its Child and Adult Care Food Program, which affects low-income families, but it also updated requirements in school wellness policies related to nutrition standards.
To help decrease obesity rates, the report recommended focusing on healthier food and increased physical activity in schools, increasing the access to healthier foods in communities, and coverage by health plans for obesity programs to prevent and treat obesity.
The report states: "Many of the most successful approaches for preventing obesity focus on matching the specific needs and leveraging the existing resources within a local community. These place-based approaches ensure that people who live in the community are invested in making a difference in their own cities and towns."
The report shares how community collaboration, or "place-based approaches," would create "local partnership networks that involve leaders from the public health, healthcare, education, philanthropic, social service, transportation and housing sectors." According to the report, those key community stakeholders are best suited to identifying local resources and determining the most effective strategies in achieving their shared goal.
In a media release, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) praised the report's recognition of the importance of community collaboration in obesity prevention programs.
"ACE is encouraged by these findings, as they reinforce what we believe as an organization, and lend support to the community-based, physical-activity focused partnerships across the country that we have been privileged to play a role in bringing into existence," said ACE CEO Scott Goudeseune. "There is a real opportunity right now to dramatically impact the obesity rate in this country, but it will require exactly the kinds of collaboration and community focus that this report spells out."
As one example of how ACE has championed community-led efforts, the organization has provided curriculum support and study assistance that have helped to build the capacity of the Active RVA movement with Sports Backers, a Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to making physical activity a priority in people's lives. The support provided by ACE has allowed the organization to increase the number of fitness professionals in the Richmond, VA area who will in turn become community leaders dedicated to tackling physical inactivity issues that contribute to the current state of obesity.