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Americans Fatter in 37 States

State-by-State Ratings Show Waistlines Still Widening
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 19, 2008 -- Millions of Americans are watching our countrymen compete in the Olympics. But fewer and fewer of us bear any resemblance to those lean, fit figures.

The latest annual state-by-state obesity rankings don't paint a pretty picture:

  • Number of states in which adult obesity rates went up: 37
  • Number of states in which adult obesity rates went down: 0
  • Number of states in which adult obesity rates went up for the third year in a row: 19
  • Percentage of population that is obese in Colorado, this year's least obese state: 18.4
  • Percentage of population that was obese in the four most obese states in 1991: 15% to 20%
  • Number of states in which at least 1 in 4 adults is obese: 28
  • Number of states in which at least 1 in 5 adults was obese in 1991: 0

These are just a few of the shocking numbers in the fifth annual "F as in Fat" report from the nonprofit Trust for America's Health, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Senior author of the report is Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of Trust for America's Health and associate professor of health policy at George Washington University School of Public Health.

The report's state-by-state rankings find Mississippi, West Virginia, and Alabama to be the most obese states. Colorado, Hawaii, and Connecticut are the least obese states -- yet Colorado's obesity rate continues to climb toward 20% of adults, a level already surpassed by Hawaii and Connecticut.

"The crisis is getting worse," Levi said at a news conference. "The 2008 report shows some states and communities have taken positive steps, but overall we are not treating the obesity epidemic with the seriousness it deserves."

The most shocking figure in last year's report was that more than 30% of Mississippi adults were obese. This year, Mississippi's problem is even worse -- and now Alabama and West Virginia have adult obesity rates over 30%.

Obesity in the U.S. is less like a rising tide than like a hurricane surge, suggests James Marks, MD, MPH, senior vice president and director of the health group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"This is the fifth annual report, and with each and every year we see more evidence the obesity epidemic is gaining speed and destructive force," Marks said at the news conference.

Levi and Marks stress that a change in direction will take serious efforts from federal, state, and local governments; from corporations and small businesses; from communities; and from individuals. But they say none of this can come together without leadership from the top.

Without increased federal funding, Marks says, state and local programs will be hard pressed to continue effective programs.

"The resources devoted to improving the health of our families and our children remain too few and too ineffective," Marks said. "The federal government continues to cut its own effective programs. At the federal level, the only obesity number going down is the number of dollars being spent to end the epidemic."

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