New Report Finds Progress to Prevent Obesity at Risk

Report Provides Recommendations for Actions as Adult Obesity Rates Now Exceed 35 Percent in Five States.

    • August 31, 2017
A young woman engages a child in a physical activity exercise.

Washington, D.C.—Adult obesity rates are showing signs of leveling off, according to the 14th annual State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)—but progress could be eroded if programs are cut and policies are weakened.

This year, adult obesity rates exceeded 35 percent in five states, 30 percent in 25 states, and 25 percent in 46 states. As of 2000, no state had an obesity rate above 25 percent.  

In the past year, adult obesity rates increased in four states (Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, and West Virginia), decreased in one state (Kansas), and remained stable in the rest. This supports trends that have shown steadying levels in recent years. Last year was the first time this annual report recorded any declines in adult obesity rates, with four states experiencing declines, and, overtime, growth has started to slow. In 2006, rates increased in 31 states; in 2010, rates increased in 16 states.

In addition, the report reviews other studies that have found childhood rates have stabilized over the past decade, and decreased among low-income preschoolers between 2011 and 2014.

State-by-state adult obesity rates and a new policy web-based interactive, featuring more than 20 policies focused on preventing and reducing obesity, are available on stateofobesity.org.  

“Obesity rates are still far too high, but the progress we’ve seen in recent years is real and it’s encouraging,” said Richard E. Besser, MD, president and CEO of RWJF. “That progress could be easily undermined if leaders and policymakers at all levels don’t continue to prioritize efforts that help all Americans lead healthier lives.”

The State of Obesity also found that:

  • Colorado had the lowest adult obesity rate at 22.3 percent and West Virginia had the highest at 37.7 percent.
  • Nine of the 11 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South and 23 of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest.
  • Adult obesity rates have striking racial and ethnic inequities—with rates above 40 percent for Blacks in 15 states, and rates at or above 35 percent among Latinos in nine states, compared with rates above 35 percent among Whites in one state.
  • Obesity rates are around 30 percent higher among adults without a college education and with incomes below $15,000 compared with other adults.
  • One in four young adults who try to join the military are ineligible due to fitness and weight concerns.

To accelerate progress in addressing obesity, RWJF and TFAH urge policymakers to:

  • Invest in prevention at the federal, state and local levels, including full funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
  • Prioritize early childhood policies and programs, including support for Head Start and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
  • Maintain progress on school-based policies and programs, including full implementation of current nutrition standards for school foods.
  • Invest in community-based policies and programs, including nutrition assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and transportation, housing, and community development policies and programs that support physical activity.
  • Fully implement menu labeling rules and the updated Nutrition Facts label.
  • Expand healthcare coverage and care, including continued Medicare and Medicaid coverage of the full range of obesity prevention, treatment, and management services.

“It’s clear that the progress we’ve made in fighting obesity is fragile—and that we’re at a critical juncture where continuation of the policies that show promise and increased support and resources could truly help bend the rising tide of obesity rates,” said John Auerbach, president and CEO of TFAH. “We’re far from out of the woods when it comes to obesity. But we have many reasons to be optimistic thanks to parents, educators, business owners, health officials, and other local leaders. Our nation’s policymakers must follow their example to build a culture of health.”

The obesity rate analyses are based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). (Note: the methodology for BRFSS changed in 2011.) The State of Obesity report (formerly known as F as in Fat), with state rankings, interactive maps, charts, and graphs, is available at stateofobesity.org. Follow the conversation at #StateofObesity.

2016 State-By-State Adult Obesity Rates

Based on an analysis of new state-by-state data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, adult obesity rates by state from highest to lowest were:

Note: 1 = Highest rate of adult obesity, 51 = lowest rate of adult obesity.

1. West Virginia (37.7); 2. Mississippi (37.3); 3. (tie) Alabama (35.7) and Arkansas (35.7); 5. Louisiana (35.5); 6. Tennessee (34.8); 7. Kentucky (34.2); 8. Texas (33.7); 9. Oklahoma (32.8); 10. (tie) Indiana (32.5) and Michigan (32.5); 12. South Carolina (32.3); 13. (tie) Iowa (32) and Nebraska (32); 15. North Dakota (31.9); 16. North Carolina (31.8); 17. Missouri (31.7); 18. Illinois (31.6); 19. Ohio (31.5); 20. (tie) Alaska (31.4) and Georgia (31.4); 22. Kansas (31.2); 23. (tie) Delaware (30.7) and Wisconsin (30.7); 25. Pennsylvania (30.3); 26. (tie) Maine (29.9) and Maryland (29.9); 28. South Dakota (29.6); 29. (tie) Arizona (29) and Virginia (29); 31. Oregon (28.7); 32. Washington (28.6); 33. New Mexico (28.3); 34. Minnesota (27.8); 35. Wyoming (27.7); 36. (tie) Florida (27.4) and Idaho (27.4) and New Jersey (27.4); 39. Vermont (27.1); 40. (tie) New Hampshire (26.6) and Rhode Island (26.6); 42. Connecticut (26); 43. Nevada (25.8); 44. (tie) Montana (25.5) and New York (25.5); 46. Utah (25.4);

47. California (25); 48. Hawaii (23.8); 49. Massachusetts (23.6); 50. D.C. (22.6); 51. Colorado (22.3).

 

About Trust for America's Health

Trust for America's Health is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority. For more information, visit www.healthyamericans.org.

 

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937

Additional Media Contact: Albert Lang

Trust for America's Health (202) 223-9870 x21