June 29th, 2010
11:02 AM ET

Obesity rising; Southern states have highest rates

The Southern states of the U.S. have some of the highest rates of obesity in the country, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report found that adult obesity rates rose in 28 states over the past year, with Washington, D.C. as the only area that showed a decline. Ten out of 11 states with the highest rates are located in the South; Mississippi has the highest for the sixth year in a row.

Income disparities may contribute to this trend of obesity being prevalent in the South, said Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PolicyLink. The issue of access and affordability of healthy food is also a factor, said Dr. James Marks, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The analysis, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010," is the seventh annual report on obesity from these organizations. The newest report looked at average rates from 2007 to 2009, compared to 2006 to 2008.

Obesity rates are above 25 percent in 38 states, and above 30 percent in eight states. Back in 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent, and the national average was only 15 percent in 1980.

In 12 states, the number of adults who say they do not engage in any physical activity rose. Washington D.C. and two states had declines in this area.

Diabetes rates have gone up 19 percent in adults in the past year, the report found. Diabetes and hypertension are strongly associated with obesity.

The report found a strong association between socioeconomic status and adult obesity rates. About 35 percent of those earning less than $15,000 a year were obese, compared to 24.5 percent of adults earning $50,000 or more per year.

There are also racial disparities in the picture of obesity in the U.S. Blacks and latinos have higher obesity rates than whites in nearly every state.

More than one third of children and teens are obese or overweight, even though over 80 percent of parents believe that their children are of normal weight.

"We’re in danger of raising the first generation who could live sicker and die younger than the generation before them," said Marks.

But there are signs of progress, he said. Twenty states and Washington D.C. have nutritional standards for school lunches that are stricter than USDA standards. There are also 20 states that have passed requirements for body mass index assessments or other weight evaluations in schools.

iReport: Follow 10-year-old child's obesity challenge

Policy interventions that experts think about on the community level address adults as well as kids, said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health. Making supermarkets more readily available, reducing the number of fast food restaurants, and redesigning neighborhoods to create more opportunities for exercise would be positive interventions for both adults and children, he said.

Here's the states with highest rates:

1. Mississippi (33.8%)
2. Alabama (31.6%) tied with Tennessee (31.6%)
4. West Virginia (31.3%)
5. Louisiana (31.2%)
6.Oklahoma (30.6%)
7. Kentucky (30.5%)
8. Arkansas (30.1%)
9. South Carolina (29.9%)
10. Michigan (29.4%) tied with North Carolina (29.4%)

soundoff (562 Responses)
  1. k_the_c

    Fructose is the real poison here...


    June 30, 2010 at 02:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. David

    We should feel so lucky that the prevailing health problem in this country is obesity rather than starvation or general malnutrition (Although we suffer from that too! Thanks fast food!)

    June 30, 2010 at 06:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. dco

    two words – sweet tea

    June 30, 2010 at 07:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. JoeDon

    Fat asses = people with no self-discipline to watch what they put in their mouths AND to exercise regularly. Period. Quit making excuses for these losers. Fried food...hot weather...low income??? It's always somebody or something else's fault. Good grief!

    June 30, 2010 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Treyman

    Ok people let me set you straight it's calories in vs calories burned. You can eat whatever you want as long as you aren't a lazy mofo. As for the "it's too hot to exercise" I know that people consider the south a little backwards but they do still have ac. So get off your fat arses and exercise you lazy mofo's. And southern fried goodness I'm afraid that many of those southern fathers are also chasing their daughters.

    June 30, 2010 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. sylvia

    IF you look closely at these states, they are also some of the same ones with high poverty levels.
    It's all well and good to say go to the a gym, walk 5 miles, etc. But when you live in government housing that isn't safe, and you depend on food stamps to buy groceries, you can not afford the healthier foods. Example, a pound of 73% ground beef is $2.49 compared to a pound of 90% at $3.49 a pound, if you want organic add another dollar a pound. Fresh fruits and vegetables are lovely, but a pound of grapes is 3.99, a quart of strawberries 3.49, Bananas are 69 a pound, water melon is 5.00 for a small one. Due to spoilage these are not something you can afford to purchase.
    My daughter and i are both overweight. I have a dead thyroid and numerous complications from a gastric bypass.
    I am literally overweight yet starving to death due to the fact that my body is in starvation mode and stores fat.
    I try to serve the healthiest meals we can afford. We don't eat out at all because of our financial situation.
    I would love for my daughter to be able to go to a gym, but we can't afford a membership, it is to dangerous in our neighborhood for her to walk by herself, she attends and participates in gym classes at school, so it is not like we are not trying and unaware of our circumstances. But, with a limited income, you have very few choices.
    If law makers and citizens are so concerned about obesity, then supply low income families with the fresh veggies and fruit that they need and give them a safe place to exercise.
    Two notes, one, the cost medicare is paying for the severe complications i have had to the gastric bypass are astounding
    I have 4 physicians that monitor my condition carefully. I was healthier before the bypass. Yet doctors employed me to have it because it would be good for me. It destroyed me.
    Second, Many "thin" people also have addictions, how much does the health system pay for drug addicts and alcoholics and the medical conditions that come with those. Let me tell you more than with obesity.
    My ex is an alcoholic, he is 53, has stomach cancer and had a quadruple bypass. He is now on social services and medicaid. He has been arrested numerous times for dwi, etc. My being overweight will never cause anyone else to be injured or lose their lives. My weight does not cost the government money in criminal proceeding.
    Until someone is ready to offer real suggestions and tangible help for obesity, then the media needs to end this harrassment of the overweight people in this country. We suffer enough because of ignorance already.

    June 30, 2010 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. dshall

    It's irresponsible journalism to keep citing the "income" excuse in articles like this one. A few apples cost no more than a bag of potato chips. Eating less saves money, period. People are just fat and lazy because their neighbors, co-workers, and family members are fat and lazy – it's mental.

    June 30, 2010 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. ScarletFire

    FAST FOOD! The drive through line at my Frankfort, KY McDonald's causes a traffic jam. A value meal can be 1000+ calories; especially if it's super sized. Fast food is cheap, easy and always available. Watch the people leaving McDonald's; how many are obese?

    June 30, 2010 at 08:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Cait

    I'm glad to see Texas is not included on this list. Eventhough we are the largest of the southern states and have some of the greatest population per capita, I guess we're doing something different to stay off of that dreaded list.

    June 30, 2010 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Florencio Mendiola Jr.

    Clean-up the food supply (you know what I'm talking about), stop injecting vacines that are filled with toxins and destroying the immune system (peopel are still dying from the very diseases the vacines are supposed to prevent in the first place), the immune system is the best defender, clean-up the toxins in our drinking water, "stop" poisoning our meat supplies with toxic chemicals, Start using non-toxic material in all our foods containers, packaging and cookware.

    People need to start taking responsibility for their individual lifes and do the right thing for themselves because the FDA and Federal will not.

    I lived my entired life free from over-the-counter drugs, vacines, prescribed drugs, refined sugars, processed foods, fast foods, junk foods, avoided the propaganda on TV, Radio, Newspapers because its all "Junk" and its bad for you.

    I eat "live" foods that contain live enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, herbs, and I grow my own. I never been sick ever!!
    I exercise every morning.... calisthenics (military exercise) just using my body and some small space, don't need no expensive equipment. You don't get great abs by doing stomach exercises either!!

    Most people in the U.S.A. take the lazy way out because its easier to eat and get fat than to work honestly and dedicated oneself to sensible life style. If Jack Lalanne (the juice man can do it) everyone can too.

    June 30, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. bitedigest

    Consumption of high fructose corn syrup/sweeteners and sugar is up nearly 30% since 1970. Is stevia the answer? http://bitedigest.wordpress.com/

    July 1, 2010 at 02:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Blitiddl

    No matter what the statistics show you CANNOT find ONE physician who will "treat" obesity. They merely say "stop eating" and got out of my office. Physicians still view obesity as an eating disorder NOT a disease. There are FEW holistic practitioners who will treat obesity. Medifast can and does turn down heart patients and Optifast. Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig does not work .. there is nobody DOing anything to treat or reverse obesity. [and exercise may work BUT not if you get angina doing it]

    July 1, 2010 at 03:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. chubbysouth

    30% fat, lazy, dumb
    70% skinny, lazy, dumb

    July 1, 2010 at 07:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Lynda

    Look the real problem to the obesity is electronics!!! Computers, video games, etc. You figure before all of this came out more people were actually up doing things (cleaning, getting a pick up game of football or basketball with the guys, etc.). I mean really, think about how long a person will sit with a computer a day compared to their life before. Is it really mother nature to blame (beacause our bodies do adjust to our environment "heat" I moved from new jersey to florida and the heat doesn't bother me) or the food that is available to us? NO, it is your own fault to blame for eating the wrong food and not taking time out to do something active for your own physical health. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS!!!! Being healthy and fit comes from within....I know cause I am!!!!

    July 20, 2010 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Lidia Seebeck

    I will admit it, I am overweight. Being out in California for eight years did me no favors. Too easy to not exercise there. Here in Colorado the weight is dropping significantly enough that my friends and my clothes are noticing. I will get there. To the problem of expensive fruits and veggies– we have got to improve urban agriculture. Don't tell me it can't be done. There are SO many innovative ideas, from window hydroponics to rooftop gardens to the beds of pickup trucks to seed bombing to guerrilla gardening to the Todmorden approach. If we Americans really tried, we'd have surpluses of real food, like greens and veggies. Hint– you can grow more pounds of zucchini, chard, tomatoes, parsley, and many others in a truck-bed sized space than you can of wheat. Decorative street trees could be phased out to become fruit trees. Imagine the Big Apple– full of apple trees! It CAN be done. DO IT. Written from Midway, Colorado. 2200 square feet of garden this year.

    June 12, 2012 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
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