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States with 30 Percent Obesity Rate Double

WASHINGTON, DC -- The number of states with an adult obesity rate of at least 30 percent doubled from four to eight in the past year, and several states are not too far behind.

Mississippi, for the sixth consecutive year, has the highest adult obesity rate at 33.8 percent, according to the recently released “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010” report. Alabama and Tennessee are tied for second at 31.6 percent, followed by West Virginia (31.3 percent), Louisiana (31.2 percent), Oklahoma (30.6 percent), Kentucky (30.5 percent) and Arkansas (30.1 percent).

Six states have at least a 29 percent adult obesity rate: South Carolina, Michigan, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio and Texas. Overall, adult obesity rates increased in 28 states in the past year and decreased only in the District of Columbia (DC).

Colorado, for the seventh consecutive year, has the lowest adult obesity rate at 19.1 percent, yet its rate has increased each year since 2004. Colorado also is the only state with a rate below 20 percent for the fourth consecutive year.

Obesity rates are troubling for blacks, Latinos and lower-income adults, according to the report. Adult obesity rates for blacks topped 40 percent in nine states, 35 percent in 34 states and 30 percent in 43 states and DC. Rates for Latino adults were 35 percent in two states and at least 30 percent in 19 states. Also, 35.3 percent of adults earning less than $15,000 a year were obese compared to 24.5 percent of adults who earn $50,000 or more a year.

“Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges the country has ever faced, and troubling disparities exist based on race, ethnicity, region, and income,” says Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, which published the report along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “This report shows that the country has taken bold steps to address the obesity crisis in recent years, but the nation’s response has yet to fully match the magnitude of the problem. Millions of Americans still face barriers—like the high cost of healthy foods and lack of access to safe places to be physically active—that make healthy choices challenging.”

The report also includes obesity rates among youths ages 10-17 and the results of a new poll on childhood obesity conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and American Viewpoint. The poll shows that 80 percent of Americans recognize that childhood obesity is a significant and growing challenge for the country, and 50 percent of Americans believe childhood obesity is such an important issue that Americans need to invest more to prevent it immediately. The survey also found that 84 percent of parents believe their children are at a healthy weight, but research shows nearly one-third of children and teens are obese or overweight.

The “F as in Fat” report even has a new name this year. The 2009 report was subtitled: “How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America.”

Other findings from this year’s report include:

  • The new health reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, has the potential to address the obesity epidemic through a number of prevention and wellness provisions, expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and create a reliable funding stream through the creation of the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
  • Community Transformation grants have the potential to help leverage the success of existing evidence-based disease prevention programs.
  • President Barack Obama created a White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, which issued a new national obesity strategy that contained concrete measures and roles for every agency in the federal government.
  • First lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move initiative to solve childhood obesity within a generation.
  • Twenty states and DC set nutritional standards for school lunches, breakfasts and snacks that are stricter than current U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements. Five years ago, only four states had legislation requiring stricter standards.
  • Twenty-eight states and DC have nutritional standards for competitive foods sold in schools on à la carte lines, in vending machines, in school stores or through school bake sales. Five years ago, only six states had nutritional standards for competitive foods.
  • Every state has some form of physical education requirement for schools, but these requirements are often limited, not enforced or do not meet adequate quality standards.
  • Twenty states have passed requirements for body mass index screenings of children and adolescents or have passed legislation requiring other forms of weight and/or fitness related assessments in schools. Five years ago, only four states had passed screening requirements.

Recommendations outlined in the report to enhance the prevention of obesity and related diseases include:

  • Support obesity- and disease-prevention programs through the new health reform law’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides $15 billion in mandatory appropriations for public health and prevention programs over the next 10 years.
  • Align federal policies and legislation with the goals of the forthcoming National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy. Opportunities to do this can be found through key pieces of federal legislation that are up for reauthorization in the next few years, including the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Surface Transportation Authorization Act.
  • Expand the commitment to community-based prevention programs initiated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 through new provisions in the health reform law, such as Community Transformation grants and the National Diabetes Prevention Program.
  • Continue to invest in research and evaluation on nutrition, physical activity, obesity and obesity-related health outcomes and associated interventions.

States with the highest adult obesity ranking:

1. Mississippi (33.8 percent)
2. (tie) Alabama and Tennessee (31.6 percent)
4. West Virginia (31.3 percent)
5. Louisiana (31.2 percent)
6. Oklahoma (30.6 percent)
7. Kentucky (30.5 percent)
8. Arkansas (30.1 percent)
9. South Carolina (29.9 percent)
10. (tie) Michigan and North Carolina (29.4 percent)

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