Report: Obesity Rates Rise Nationwide

Researchers found that obesity rates rose in 23 out of 50 states in the past year and remained steady in all of the others.

Mississippi once again topped the list of the heaviest states — 32.5 percent of adults in the state are obese (they have a body mass index of 30, or about 197 pounds for a 5’8″ person.) Alabama was a close second, with a 31.1 percent obesity rate.

Obesity rates have skyrocketed nationwide in the past two decades. In 1991, no state had a rate above 20 percent. By this year, every state but one did: Colorado at 18.9 percent.

The problem could get worse in the coming year, the report’s authors suggest, as the economy remains stagnant. Nutritious foods are often more expensive than empty calories.

“At the same time, safety-net programs and services are becoming increasingly overextended as the numbers of unemployed, uninsured and underinsured Americans continue to grow,” the report states. “For many people, too, worries over the recession are triggering increased depression, anxiety and stress, which often can be linked to obesity.”

The report also suggests that the nation’s Medicare system is about to face an upsurge in expenses as older baby boomers enter the system. In every state, the obesity rate for 50 to 64-year-olds is higher than the rate for people over age 64.

That extra weight will translate to extra money: Medicare spends anywhere from $1,400 to $6,000 more per year on obese seniors than non-obese seniors, Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, told the Associated Press. That money goes to treatments for obesity-related ailments such as diabetes and knee problems.

Children didn’t fare much better. In 30 states, more than 30 percent of children are either overweight (a BMI over 25) or obese.

States are making an effort to curb adult and childhood obesity, however. Nineteen states have set stricter school nutrition guidelines than the Federal government requires, and four have enacted menu labeling regulations in restaurants.

Still, the findings call for “a national strategy to combat obesity,” Robert Wood Johnson vice president James Marks told the AP. “The crest of the wave of obesity is still to crash.”

Robert Wood Johnson is a funder of NewsHour health coverage.

Such efforts are vital to the nation’s health and economy, according to Levi.

“The obesity epidemic is a big contributor to the skyrocketing health care costs in the US,” he told the BBC. “How are we going to compete with the rest of the world if our economy and workforce are weighed down by bad health?”

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