Considerable variation exists in obesity rates among states and by race and ethnicity

 America is struggling with an obesity epidemic with more than one in four people in this country considered to be obese. To see the full picture of the nation’s struggle with weight, it’s important to examine the variations in obesity rates among the states and by race and ethnicity.

 Significant variations exist in both the rates of obesity and in the growth of obesity across the states. In Colorado, for example, 22 percent of the population is obese, compared to 36 percent in Mississippi, which has the highest rate of obesity in America.

State-level disparities increase when obesity rates are examined by race and ethnicity. Nationally, the rate of obesity among African-Americans is approximately 1.4 times the rate among whites, but it is even higher when the figures are broken down by state. In Washington D.C., African-Americans experience obesity rates nearly four times as high as whites, and in Colorado, Wisconsin, and South Carolina rates are nearly twice as high. Racial disparities also exist in obesity growth rates among the states. Between 2001 and 2011, obesity rates increased the most among Hispanics—particularly in Louisiana, Iowa, and Arizona.

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These disparities are especially troubling among children. The majority of American youth are not getting the recommended amount of physical activity (60 minutes per day), and few states are implementing policy related to nutrition, screening, and physical activity in schools. As of January 2012, only three states (Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee) had implemented policies on BMI screening or other weight assessment in schools, requirements for a certain amount or level of physical activity in schools, and nutritional standards for schools that are stronger than the USDA’s. Eighteen states (Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming) had not implemented any of these policies.

Sources and Notes

SHADAC analysis of Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data. Two years of BRFSS data were pooled to produce state-level estimates for adults.

 Information on state policies were obtained from F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011, Trust for America’s Health (TFAH).