Mississippi leads national rise in rate of obesity

Times Staff Writer

For the third year in a row, Mississippi is the fattest state in the country and Colorado the leanest, but the obesity rate is increasing in all states, according to a report released Monday.

Mississippi this year became the first state to have more than 30% of its residents classified as obese; 47 states are above 20%. Fifteen years ago, no state was above 15%, according to officials from the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit group that prepared the report using federal statistics obtained through telephone interviews.

For the first time, the annual report included state-by-state figures on childhood obesity, showing the District of Columbia in the No. 1 spot with 22.8% of its children overweight and Utah last with 8.5%.

California is ranked 36th in adult obesity with 22.7% and 32nd in childhood obesity with 13.2%.

The report is “a devastating indictment,” said Jim Marks, a senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a healthcare philanthropy group that sponsored the study. “The nation is in the middle of a public health crisis that is deteriorating rapidly, and we are treating it like an inconvenience.”


Marks found the data for youth particularly discouraging.

“These children could be the first generation to live sicker and die younger than their parents,” he said.

The report categorized subjects using the body mass index, or BMI, a ratio of weight and height. It defined overweight as having a BMI between 25 and 30, and obese as a BMI above 30. An individual who is 6 feet tall and 230 pounds, for example, has a BMI of 31.

The incidence of obesity increased in 31 states in 2006, and no state experienced a decrease, said Jeff Levi, executive director of the trust.

“Despite the increased attention, obesity is continuing to grow in America,” he said.

Ten of the 15 states with the highest rates of obesity among adults were in the South, as were eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of overweight youth.

That is crucial, Levi said, because the region also has the highest rates of Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, both of which are linked to obesity.

Obesity costs $117 billion a year in preventable healthcare expenditures and “is pushing the healthcare system to the breaking point,” Marks said.

Presidential candidates are talking about universal healthcare plans, Levi said, but unless the obesity rate is brought under control, “no plan is going to be affordable.”

Some experts think the estimates in the report are conservative because people are underreporting their weight in surveys.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last year, in which it actually weighed subjects, that found a nationwide obesity rate of 32%, higher than that for any state in the new rankings.