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Obesity rates reach historic highs in more US states

Rates up in six states, and at least 30 percent of adults are obese in 20 states — more than ever before

Adult obesity rates increased in six U.S. states and fell in none last year, and in 20 states — more than ever before — at least 30 percent of adults are obese, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The conclusions were reported by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and were based on federal government data. They suggest that the problem may be worsening despite numerous programs to address it, and despite widespread publicity from first lady Michelle Obama and many others.

“Obesity in America is at a critical juncture,” said TFAH director Jeffrey Levi. “We need to intensify prevention efforts starting in early childhood, and do a better job of implementing effective policies and programs in all communities – so every American has the greatest opportunity to have a healthy weight and live a healthy life.”

From 2011 to 2012, the rate of obesity increased in only one state. But last year it rose in six – Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming – and the 2013 adult obesity rate exceeded 20 percent in every state, while 42 had rates above 25 percent.

For the first time the rate in two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, rose above 35 percent. The year before, 13 states were above 30 percent and 41 had rates of at least 25 percent.

Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, where BMI is calculated by dividing weight (in kilograms) by height (in meters) squared. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9.

Nationally, obesity rates remained at about one-third of the adult population, according to the report, titled “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America.” It said just over two-thirds are overweight or more.

However, childhood obesity rates have leveled off, with about one in three 2- to 19-year-olds overweight or obese in 2012, comparable to rates over the past decade.

Continuing a years-long trend, nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South. The West and Northeast had the healthiest BMIs, with Colorado boasting the lowest adult obesity rate, 21.3 percent.

Obesity also showed a relationship to demographics, with higher rates correlating to poverty, which is associated with lower availability of healthy foods and fewer safe neighborhoods where people can walk and children can play for exercise. For instance, more than 75 percent of African-Americans are overweight or obese, compared with 67.2 percent of whites.

That pattern affects children, too. In 2012, just over 8 percent of African-American children ages 2 to 19 were severely obese, with a BMI above 40, compared with 3.9 percent of white children. About 38 percent of African-American children live below the poverty line, while 12 percent of white children do.

A third of adults who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, compared with one-quarter who earn at least $50,000.

"Obesity rates are unacceptably high, and the disparities in rates are profoundly troubling," Levi said.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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