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%)

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