Recent estimates show that a third of American adults and one in six children are obese, but a report published Thursday suggests the rate of increase could be stabilizing in some states.

Using data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation placed West Virginia as the state with the highest obesity rate, at 37.7 percent. The report said Mississippi was the second, at 37.3 percent, while Alabama and Arkansas were tied in third place at 35.7 percent.

Image credit: Mobieg
Image credit: Mobieg

The report stated the adult obesity rate rose between 2015 and 2016 in Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, and West Virginia, but it fell in Kansas and remained the same elsewhere.

Report finds optimistic drop in obesity rates in some states

The new report said Colorado had the lowest adult obesity rate in the United States, at 22.3 percent. John Auerbach, Trust for America’s Health President and CEO, noted this is the first time in 14 years of conducting the report that any state’s rate dropped and obesity rates in other states have begun to slow.

The rates differ slightly from a recent CDC report on obesity rates that placed Louisiana as the state with the highest rates of obesity, followed by West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama all tied in second place.

The report recommends the public to focus on early childhood prevention efforts, including promoting exercise and healthier diets, expanding investments in community-based programs, increasing health care coverage for obesity prevention and treatment, as well as improving school efforts to provide healthy meals for children and physical activities.

“We conclude the report with a fair amount of optimism,” Auerbach said on a conference call, according to CBS News. “The adult rates are showing signs of leveling off and the childhood rates are stabilizing.”

Auerbach added that while reviewing the policies and strategies, they found that many states show “a lot of promise” for reversing the unhealthy trends and improving health if they make them a higher priority.

Obesity-associated health problems are acute in Appalachia

The report studied CDC data on body mass index, a measure of weight and height. People with a body mass index of 25 to 29 are considered overweight, while those whose BMI is 30 and above are considered obese.

Twenty-five states had obesity rates above 30 percent, according to the report. However, in 2000 no state had a rate above 25 percent. The report said nine of the 11 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South. Meanwhile, states in the Northeast and the West had lower obesity rates.

Auerbach noted obesity costs the nation over $150 billion in preventable health care costs, and contributes to numerous health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, among others.

Image credit: CNBC
Image credit: CNBC

Many of those health problems are particularly acute in the 13-state Appalachian region, which is currently far behind the rest of the country in 33 of 41 public health indicators, including seven leading causes of death, according to a different study published last week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

In fact, early in August, a study found that people who live in rural Appalachia have higher infant mortality rates and lower life expectancy compared to those living elsewhere in the United States. There are several reasons as to why the region has lagged behind in life expectancy, including the opioid epidemic –which has been especially acute in the Appalachia—and smoking behavior.

For instance, that study found that nearly 20 percent of Appalachian women reported smoking during pregnancy, which contributes to the high infant mortality rates in the 13-state region. Death rates overall have also increased and are mostly attributed to heart disease, cancer, and respiratory disease, all conditions that can be caused by tobacco.

Obesity rates are higher among adults with low incomes

The new report also shed light on other conditions that could influence obesity rates. The researchers found obesity rates were higher among adults without a college education or with annual incomes of less than $15,000.

The report described obesity as a “national security issue” that impacts the country’s “military readiness,” noting that one in four young adults who had tried to join the army was deemed ineligible because of fitness and weight concerns. Being overweight or obese is currently the leading cause of medical disqualifications, according to the report.

“Obesity rates are still far too high, but the progress we’ve seen in recent years is real and it’s encouraging,” noted Dr. Richard E. Besser, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s President and CEO, according to CBS News. “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.”

Source: CBS News