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Report: U.S. Obesity Rates Reach Historic Highs

Rates higher in South and among African-Americans, Latinos, and lower-income Americans

Adult obesity rates remained high overall, increased in six states in the past year, and did not decrease in any, according to a report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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

Findings reveal that significant geographic, income, racial, and ethnic disparities persist, with obesity rates highest in the South and among African-Americans, Latinos, and lower-income, less-educated Americans. The report also found that more than one in 10 children become obese as early as 2 to 5 years of age.

“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.”

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, the report says.

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 African-American and Latino communities than among whites:

  • Adult obesity rates for African-Americans are at or above 40% in 11 states, 35% in 29 states, and 30% in 41 states.
  • Rates of adult obesity among Latinos exceeded 35% in five states and 30% in 23 states.
  • Among whites, adult obesity rates topped 30% in 10 states.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Nine out of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South.
  • So-called “baby boomers” (older adults) have the highest obesity rates of any age group, topping 35% in 17 states and 30% in 41 states.
  • More than 33% of adults 18 years of age and older who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, compared with 25% of those who earn at least $50,000 per year.
  • More than 6% of adults are severely obese; the number of severely obese adults has quadrupled in the past 30 years.

Sources: Trust for America’s Health; September 4, 2014.

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