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Gallup Survey: U.S. Obesity Rate on the Rise

Chronic diseases are most prevalent in the most obese states

According to a new Gallup survey, the national obesity rate, as computed by respondents’ self-reported height and weight in the Gallup–Healthways Well-Being Index, has increased to 27.1% from 26.2% in 2012, and is up 1.6 percentage points from 25.5% in 2008, Gallup’s initial year of tracking.

Americans with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher are classified as obese.

From 2010 through 2012, West Virginia maintained the highest obesity rate nationwide while Colorado had the lowest. Five states — Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Kentucky — have been listed among the 10 states with the highest obesity rates in the nation since 2008. Colorado, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California have routinely been states with lower levels of obesity — all four have made the list of the 10 states with the lowest obesity rates in the nation each year since 2008.

In the new survey, Mississippi had the highest obesity rate in the U.S. in 2013, at 35.4%, whereas Montana had the lowest rate, at 19.6%. Three in 10 adults were obese in 11 states — Mississippi, West Virginia, Delaware, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Alaska — compared with only five states in 2012. Obesity rates continue to be highest in Southern and Midwestern states and lowest in Western and Northeastern states, a trend that has been ongoing since Gallup and Healthways began tracking the obesity rate in 2008.

As the rate of obesity among U.S. adults continues to increase across all 50 states, health issues and costs associated with the chronic diseases that can accompany obesity will continue to rise, Gallup says. The data show that Americans are not eating as healthily or exercising as often as in past years, which might play a role in the increase of national and state obesity rates.

“While there are a variety of factors that are often correlated with rising obesity rates, such as an unhealthy food environment, poor eating habits, increasing portion sizes, and inactivity, experts agree that the health consequences of obesity are real,” Dr. James E. Pope, Senior Vice President and Chief Science Officer at Healthways said. “Research has shown that the average healthcare costs for an obese individual are over $1,300 more annually than someone who is not obese. Although slowing and even reversing this trend may seem daunting, even modest weight loss of 5% to 10% of initial body weight can lower the health risks associated with obesity,” he added.

In June 2013, the American Medical Association recognized obesity as a disease, which may affect the way obesity is discussed and treated by medical professionals. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data showing that obesity rates among children aged 2 to 5 years have dropped 43% in the past decade. Although the Gallup–Healthways Well-Being Index does not track childhood obesity rates, the CDC data are an encouraging sign that progress is being made in this area, Gallup says. Efforts to curb childhood obesity in America may positively affect adult obesity rates across all states in the years ahead. Specifically, these efforts may lead to fewer Americans entering adulthood overweight, while also encouraging overweight adults to make healthier lifestyle choices.

Source: Gallup; March 4, 2014.

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