Americans Keep Getting Fatter, Especially In The South

In 1995, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. Now, all but one does.

An annual obesity report by two public health groups looked for the first time at state-by-state statistics over the last two decades. The number of obese U.S. adults rose in 16 states in the last year, helping to push obesity rates in a dozen states above 30 percent, according to a report released on Thursday.

Mississippi is the fattest state in the union with an adult obesity rate of 34.4 percent. Colorado is the least obese -- with a rate of 19.8 percent -- and the only state with an adult obesity rate below 20 percent, according to "F as in Fat," an annual report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"When you look at it year by year, the changes are incremental," says Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, which writes the annual report with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "When you look at it by a generation you see how we got into this problem."

Obesity rates did not decline in any state and even Colorado does not win high marks -- its score means one in five state residents is at higher risk for conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

"Today, the state with the lowest adult obesity rate would have had the highest rate in 1995," said Levi.

Four years ago, only one U.S. state had an adult obesity rate above 30 percent, according to the report. Obesity is defined as a body mass index -- the weight-to-height ratio -- of 30 or more.

The study, based on 2010 data, says a dozen states top 30 percent obesity, most of them in the South. Mississippi topped the list for the seventh year in a row, with Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana close behind. Just five years ago, in 2006, Mississippi was the only state above 30 percent.

There was a bit of good news in the report: Sixteen states reported increases in their obesity rates, down from 28 states that reported increases last year. Levi says those increases have been gradually slowing, most likely due to greater public awareness of health issues and government attempts to give schools and shoppers better access to healthier foods.

"We're leveling off to some degree at an unacceptably high level," Levi said.

First lady Michelle Obama has tackled the issue with her "Let's Move" campaign, pushing for healthier school lunches, more access to fruits and vegetables and more physical activity. Republicans in Congress have pushed back somewhat against some of those programs, however, saying a rewrite of school lunch rules is too costly and questioning an Obama administration effort to curb junk food marketing aimed at children.

As in previous years, the study showed that racial and ethnic minorities, along with those who have less education and make less money, have the highest obesity rates. Adult obesity rates for African-Americans topped 40 percent in 15 states, while whites topped 30 percent in only four states. About a third of adults who did not graduate from high school are obese; about a fifth of those who graduated from college are considered obese.

Some groups say such behavioral initiatives are not enough, arguing that food manufacturers and restaurant chains need limits on how they market to children.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a U.S. consumer group, last year sued McDonald's Corp to stop the world's largest hamburger chain from using Happy Meal toys to lure children into its restaurants. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics -- a group of U.S. pediatricians -- called for a ban on junk food ads aimed at children.

Industry is fighting such efforts.

The report released on Thursday showed that over the past 15 years, seven states have doubled their rate of obesity and 10 states have doubled their rate of diabetes.

Since 1995, obesity rates have risen fastest in Oklahoma, Alabama and Tennessee, while Colorado, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., had the slowest increases.

Dr. Mary Currier, Mississippi's state health officer, says her state has struggled to drop its No. 1 status and it has been challenging because much of the state is poor and rural.

"We live in an area of the country where eating is one of the things we do, and we eat a lot of fried foods," she said. "Trying to change that culture is pretty difficult."

She says the state has had some success by making school lunches healthier, taking high-calorie foods and drinks out of school vending machines and trying to find more low-cost exercise facilities for residents of rural areas.

"It is frustrating, but we've had some progress," Currier said. "We just have to continue to work at this. It's not something that's going to change overnight."


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Heather Location: NC on Jul 16, 2011 at 09:23 PM
    All welfare should be done away with. Get a job and support yourself.
  • by Bob Location: ENC on Jul 14, 2011 at 06:57 PM
    Why is there no outcry about the size of soft drinks. We used to get a 12 oz. pepsi and we were satisfied. Today you can only find 20 oz. drinks and 12 oz. cans are basically a thing of the past. Free refills & all size drinks the same price (which encourages people to get 32 oz. drinks or bigger)are a big part of the reason people are getting so obese. We have become a nation of over indulgence and it is promoted by the fast food restaurants & the soda manufacturers. Did you notice when ECU gave its first soda contract, the 12 oz. can machines were ripped out immediately and replaced with 20 oz. bottle machines. All for an extra buck. Greed & over indulgence is killing us all and no seems to care. You can eat at fast food restaurants & not become obese if you lay off the Super Size, Combos, and refilling your soda 2 or three times with the free refills.
  • by Jake Location: G-Vegas on Jul 8, 2011 at 08:47 PM
    All that fried chicken & wassamelon is the reason our peoples be gettin heavy.
  • by Dave Location: (___ ___) on Jul 8, 2011 at 11:43 AM
    People in the south and getting fatter? What's next, trees made of wood?
  • by Puh-Leez on Jul 8, 2011 at 10:18 AM
    I am fat(not morbidly so) and happy. I do not get public assistance. Life is good, please leave me alone busy-bodies. If my life is shortened by this, then so be it, at least I lived the way I wanted. I do not complain about anorexic people, or smokers, or people that tan. If you are not allowed to have personal liberty, then what good is life itself? Oh, and by the way, I pay for my own healthcare so don't even go there...
  • by Anonymous on Jul 8, 2011 at 07:54 AM
    Guilty. To whocares anymore - Ive got plenty of money...Im a chub too.
  • by Stan Location: G'ville on Jul 8, 2011 at 04:40 AM
    Simple solution most of the time, eat less and move more.
  • by WhoCaresAnymore on Jul 8, 2011 at 02:44 AM
    Of course they are get fatter living off food stamps.Heck they eat better than the average joe.I just started getting food stamps(obama card) about two months ago and my two freezers are now full of meats and kitchen cabinets are now packed full of can goods with $200 left on my account tell the 21st of this month.No wonder you see so many fat obese people with a food card.
    • reply
      by I agree on Jul 8, 2011 at 03:48 AM in reply to WhoCaresAnymore
      You are right about the Obama card. I see people in line at the grocery store with carts full of better meats and items than I can afford to purchase. Yet, since the card does not pay for some items, the same people still pay cash for beer and cigarettes. I saw a lady the other day try to buy dog food but the Obama card would'nt cover it, so she put it back and bought steaks, saying that the dog would eat good tonight. Sad world. Do not get me wrong, if people rightfully need help, that's fine. But if they are sitting around on their lazy rearends waiting for a check, it should stop.
    • reply
      by REM on Jul 8, 2011 at 03:55 AM in reply to WhoCaresAnymore
      So you come to WITN to throw it in our faces that our tax money goes to lazy degenerates like you? Thanks. GET A JOB.
      • reply
        by Jessica on Jul 8, 2011 at 06:58 AM in reply to REM
        Wow...RUDE! Some people DO need it, so get off your high horse. I get food stamps but I work 5 days a week at a Dr's office after just finishing my associates in college plus a single mom of 2. I don't get a lot but it helps. Am I lazy degenerate cause I still qualify? I agree some ARE abusing the system but NOT EVERYONE who receives help is lazy, non working degenerates. Food for thought
        • reply
          by REM on Jul 11, 2011 at 03:19 AM in reply to Jessica
          Where in my post did I say that ALL people on welfare are abusing the system? I'd say about 95% of them are though. If you have worked in a grocery store like I have, you would see the blatant abuse of tax payer money! I've seen people buy $500 worth of groceries that I had to load into a BRAND NEW car. All while an elderly couple struggles to get their last dollar out when they hit their $15 monthly limit of food stamps!! They were buying bread and canned goods by the way. I'm not sorry about speaking out! FOOD FOR THOUGHT.
      • reply
        by WhoCaresAnymore on Jul 8, 2011 at 07:34 AM in reply to REM
        Your Welcome.
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