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Obesity Report Card: Many States Failing

Nearly Half of All States Fail in Efforts to Control Obesity Epidemic

WebMD Health News

Aug. 11, 2004 -- Nearly half of all U.S. states are failing in their efforts to control the obesity epidemic facing the nation, according to a new national obesity report card.

Researchers say it's the first report card on state-based efforts to combat obesity, and 23 states received a failing grade for taking no action at all.

No state received an "A" for passing laws to help prevent and treat obesity, such as limiting the types of foods and beverages sold in schools and expanding health insurance to cover obesity treatment.

Arkansas was the only state to receive a "B" for its efforts. Last year, Arkansas became the first state in the nation to mandate annual body mass index measurement (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height used to measure obesity) for all public schoolchildren.

"Given the enormous attention we allegedly pay to our diets, and the amount of money we invest in controlling our weight, exercising, and the rest, it was really surprising to see how badly the states are doing," says researcher Zoltan Acs, professor of economics and entrepreneurship at the University of Baltimore, in a news release. "Simply put, state governments are not addressing this problem effectively, and it is doing a lot of unnecessary damage."

Researchers say the damage includes an estimated $44 billion a year in direct health-care costs attributable to obesity for problems ranging from diabetes to heart disease to cancer, and that figure is expected to nearly double by 2015.

Most States Fail to Address Obesity

In their study, researchers looked at what states are doing to treat obesity as a threat to public health, as they did with nicotine and secondhand smoke in the 1980s and 1990s.

They graded each state on its efforts to pass obesity control measures, including:

  • Nutrition standards: Controlling the types of foods and beverages offered during school hours
  • Vending machine usage: Prohibiting types of foods and beverages sold in school and prohibiting access to vending machines at certain times
  • Body mass index (BMI) measured in school
  • Recess and physical education: State-mandated additional recess and physical education time
  • Obesity programs and education: Programs established as part of curriculum
  • Obesity research: Other institutions or groups directed by the legislature to study obesity.
  • Obesity treatment in health insurance: Expanding health insurance to cover obesity treatment where applicable
  • Obesity commissions: The legislature established commissions designed to study obesity

Points were awarded to the state if such legislation was introduced, but successfully passing a law was necessary to receive an "A" in each category.

The study showed Arkansas, which ranks 15th in the nation in terms of obesity prevalence, leads the country in passing laws to control the obesity epidemic and received a "B." Ten states received a "C," 16 got a "D," and 23 received an "F" for taking no action at all.

Researchers say some of the states with the most serious obesity problems received a failing grade and have taken no steps to address the obesity epidemic.

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