Fat, Lean States: Which Is Yours?

Adult Obesity Most Common in Mississippi, Rarest in Colorado; At Least 1 in 4 Obese Nationally

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 17, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

July 17, 2008 -- At least a quarter of U.S. adults are obese, and that's just the ones who admit it, according to new adult obesity statistics from the CDC.

Nationally, 25.6% of adults are obese, up 1.7 percentage points from 2005. That's not just a few extra pounds; it's a BMI of 30 or more. BMI (body mass index) relates height to weight.

Mississippi has the highest percentage of obese adults -- 32% -- followed by Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Colorado cuts the leanest figure, with 18.7% of its adults in the obese range. Colorado has had the lowest adult obesity prevalence since 1990.

Still, no state -- not even Colorado -- met the federal government's goal of trimming that figure to no more than 15% by 2010.

"None of the states met that goal of obesity prevalence of 15% and it looks like we are continuing to head in the wrong direction," CDC epidemiologist Celeste Philip, MD tells WebMD.

The CDC's web site puts America's obesity boom in living color, with a map showing states turning from blue (low percentage of obese adults) to dark red (high percentage) since 1989.

State-by-State Obesity List

Here's how each state -- plus Washington, D.C. -- ranks in adult obesity prevalence, along with the percentage of obese adults. States with the same prevalence are listed together.

  1. Mississippi: 32%
  2. Alabama: 30.3%
  3. Tennessee: 30.1%
  4. Louisiana: 29.8%
  5. Arkansas: 28.7%
  6. West Virginia: 29.5%
  7. South Carolina: 28.4%
  8. Georgia: 28.2%
  9. Oklahoma and Texas: 28.1%
  10. North Carolina: 28%
  11. Michigan: 27.7%
  12. Alaska, Missouri, and Ohio: 27.5%
  13. Delaware and Kentucky: 27.4%
  14. Pennsylvania: 27.1%
  15. Iowa and Kansas: 26.9%
  16. Indiana: 26.8%
  17. North Dakota: 26.5%
  18. South Dakota: 26.2%
  19. Nebraska: 26%
  20. Minnesota: 25.6%
  21. Oregon: 25.5%
  22. Arizona and Maryland: 25.4%
  23. Washington: 25.3%
  24. New York: 25%
  25. Illinois: 24.9%
  26. Maine: 24.8%
  27. Wisconsin: 24.7%
  28. Idaho: 24.5%
  29. New Hampshire: 24.4%
  30. Virginia: 24.3%
  31. Nevada: 24.1%
  32. New Mexico: 24%
  33. Wyoming: 23.7%
  34. New Jersey: 23.5%
  35. California: 22.6%
  36. Montana, Utah, and Washington, D.C.: 21.8%
  37. Hawaii and Rhode Island: 21.4%
  38. Massachusetts and Vermont: 21.3%
  39. Connecticut: 21.2%
  40. Colorado: 18.7%

The data, published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, came from telephone interviews with 404,300 U.S. adults aged 18 and older in 2007. Here's the catch: They may have misreported their self-reported height and weight.

Men tend to overestimate their height and women tend to underestimate their weight, so America's true obesity statistics may actually be higher, Philips says. She says that the last time that the CDC measured a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults, instead of relying on self-reported weight and height, 34.3% were obese.

Reason for Hope?

To stem the tide of adult obesity, you might want to look to your kids.

Philip notes that The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study showing that childhood obesity may be leveling off -- not getting better, but not getting worse.

That's "encouraging, although we do have to pay attention to it over the next few years to see if it really is going in the right direction," Philip says. A lot of attention has been paid to pediatric obesity in recent years, and if adults follow in their footsteps with healthier habits and healthier environments, "I think we can start to make progress," she says.

Diet and Exercise Not the Only Issues

Eat healthfully and be physically active. That familiar refrain isn't the whole solution; your environment also matters, Philip says.

"Most people tend to think of obesity as being an individual problem, but we really are trying to shift that paradigm so that people will see it more as an environmental issue," she says.

That includes having better access to sidewalks, safe areas to exercise, healthy fresh fruits and vegetables that are affordable, and restaurants that offer healthy options and modest portion sizes, Philip says.

She recommends eating more fruits and vegetables, being more physically active, cutting back on sugar-sweetened drinks, and letting your policy makers know if you want a healthier environment.

Show Sources


CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 18, 2008; vol 57: pp. 765-768.

Celeste Philip, MD, epidemiologist, CDC.

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