Obesity Rates Continue to Climb in U.S.

WEDNESDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- The rates of adult obesity in the United States increased in 23 states during the past year and did not decrease in any state.

And the number of obese and overweight children has now climbed to 30 percent in 30 states, a troubling trend that could signal decades of weight-related health problems such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease as these children become adults.

Those are just some of the worrisome findings in an annual report on obesity in America, released Wednesday by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"Obesity is harming the health of millions of Americans and resulting in billions of additional dollars in health-care cost," Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, said during a Wednesday conference. "About one-quarter of health costs are related to obesity. Obesity is one of the biggest contributors to chronic diseases, which is one of the biggest drivers of health-care costs."

Still, the report seemed to suggest some tentative hopeful signs.

"The good news to be found in the actual obesity numbers is that the pace of the epidemic growth may be starting to slow," Dr. James S. Marks, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said during the teleconference. "We are still getting fatted, but maybe a little more slowly than before."

For the fifth year in a row, Mississippi topped the list as the state with the highest rate of adult obesity, at 32.5 percent, according to the report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America 2009.

Besides Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama and Tennessee have obesity rates above 30 percent. Eight of the 10 states with the highest number of obese adults are in the South. The state with the lowest adult obesity rate is Colorado, at 18.9 percent, according to the report.

In 31 states, obesity rates exceed 25 percent, and in 49 states and Washington, D.C., the rates are above 20 percent.

Overall, two-thirds of American adults are now obese or overweight, according to the report.

As recently as 1991, no state had an adult obesity rate higher than 20 percent; in 1980 just 15 percent of adults were obese, the report noted.

And childhood obesity continues to be a growing concern, with the rate of childhood obesity more than tripling since 1980.

Mississippi also had the dubious distinction of posting the highest rate of obesity in children ages 10 to 17, at 44.4 percent. Minnesota and Utah had the lowest rates, both at 23.1 percent. The South is home to eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of obese or overweight children.

The current economic crisis could make the obesity epidemic worse, with food costs -- especially for nutritious foods -- expected to rise. And the numbers of Americans struggling with depression, anxiety and stress, which can contribute to obesity, are increasing, the report said.

Not all the trends covered in the report were discouraging. Some other findings:

  • Standards for school meals in 19 states are stricter than United States Department of Agriculture requirements. Five years ago, just four states had laws mandating stricter standards.
  • Nutritional standards for foods sold in schools exist in 27 states, compared to six states five years ago.
  • Weight screening of children and teens is now required in 20 states; five years ago it was just four states.
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