Despite High Obesity Levels, Four States Managed a Reduction

Despite High Obesity Levels, Four States Managed a Reduction
To combat obesity, people like these try to get outside and get more active. Photo courtesy Flickr.com/Tony Alter.

With all the dire warnings about rising obesity in the United States, and its associated health risks, the country finally has some good news. A new report has discovered that obesity rates have actually dropped in four states, which is encouraging news for the country as a whole.

The 13th annual report, called The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, comes from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The study authors updated their findings online September 1st. The report set out to compare the change in obesity rates between 2014 and 2015 in each state, using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

When the authors compared obesity rates from one year to the next, they discovered that most states remained relatively stable at their high rate. Two states, Kansas and Kentucky, unfortunately experienced an increase in obesity rates in 2015. However, four states offer some encouraging numbers, as Minnesota, Montana, New York, and Ohio actually saw their obesity rates decrease in 2015. In the past ten years, no other state had experienced a decrease in obesity, although Washington D.C. saw its obesity rate decrease in 2010.

Colorado sits proudly at the low end of the obesity rates, at 20.2 percent in 2015. Louisiana, however, has the dubious distinction of the highest obesity rate in the entire country, at 36.2 percent. There are some geographical patterns to the obesity rates, with most of the highest obesity rates and diabetes rates in the South. There is also variation in obesity between different ethnic groups, with Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos all facing higher obesity rates than Caucasians in many areas.

As encouraging as the drop in obesity is for those four states, the numbers still do not look good overall. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate higher than 20 percent. In 2015, however, all states had higher than 20 percent obesity rate, with 25 states above 30 percent and four states above 35 percent. Overall, obesity rates in 2015 seem to remain at unhealthy levels.

That said, the obesity rates across the country generally seem to be on a downward trend in recent years. While 49 states experienced increased obesity rates in 2005, this dropped to 37 states in 2008, 28 states in 2010, and 16 states in 2011. 2012 and 2014 saw one and two states increase their obesity rates, respectively.

The study also analyzed data about childhood obesity, discovering that over the past ten years, childhood obesity rates seem to have stabilized at 17 percent. The 12 to 19 age group has increased obesity rates, the 6 to 11 age group remained stable, and the 2 to 5 age group had declining obesity rates this past decade. Children seem to be drinking less soda these days, with 40 percent of children drinking a soda or more a day in 2007 and only 20.4 percent of children doing so in 2015. However, they seem to be becoming less active, with an 88 percent increase in teens playing video games more than three hours a day since 2003.

The report authors suggest that although it is encouraging to see progress in the fight against obesity, there is still much to do. Obesity still accounts for between $147 billion and $210 billion a year in healthcare costs which could have been avoided, putting a strain on the economy along with an individual’s health.

Obesity has become a health epidemic in the U.S., putting millions at risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis and gout, sleep apnea, asthma and other breathing problems, gallstones, cancer, and other chronic illness. Obesity is defined as weighing at least 20% more than recommended for someone of a particular height. Obese individuals can reduce their weight and improve their health by eating a balanced diet and becoming more active with plenty of exercise.

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