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Report: No State Has Improved Its Obesity Rate

The adult obesity rate was at or above 35% in seven states and at least 30% in 29 states. West Virginia has the highest adult obesity rate at 38.1% and Colorado has the lowest at 22.6%.
State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

More than one in four Floridians is considered obese, according to the latest “State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America" report.

Florida also ranks fourth highest in the nation when it comes to obesity rates for youth ages 10 to 17. (Read the full report for Florida and the nation.)

John Auerbach is the president and CEO of Trust for America's Health, which released the report in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He said Florida’s not the only state struggling with overweight residents.

"For the first time in a number of years, no state in the nation improved in its obesity rate, and six states (Iowa, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Carolina) had a statistically significant increase in their obesity rates,” Auerbach said.

Florida's adult obesity rate is up by 10 percent since 2000. Obesity is determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a Body Mass Index – or BMI – of 30 or higher.

Florida ranks 35th overall in the nation for obesity rates. The report's data came from the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

"Florida actually looks good relative to other states because it has an obesity rate of 28 percent of the population, whereas many states are over 30 or 35 percent. But 28 percent is a very large percentage."

Auerbach also says Black and Latino obesity rates are higher than those of white residents, and that federal, state and community-led efforts to reduce those rates have to include sensitivity to different cultures and diets.

In 31 states, the adult obesity rate among Blacks is at or above 35 percent.  Latino adults have obesity at a rate at or above 35 percent in eight states.  White adults have obesity rates at or above 35 percent in one state. Nationally, the adult obesity rates for Latinos, Blacks and whites are 47 percent, 46.8 percent and 37.9 percent respectively.

Auerbach points out that while obesity rates have steadily risen nationally in the past 20 years, CDC funding for prevention efforts has continued to decrease.

“Even though we’ve known about the serious consequences of obesity for a long time, the funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been going down,” Auerbach  said. “Congress has not been increasing it. And when the funding goes down, states like Florida and the local communities within the state lose resources.”

Obesity drives an estimated $149 billion annually in directly related healthcare spending, and an additional $66 billion annually in lowered economic productivity, according to the report. 

Obesity prevention has many faces, but it can include addressing food insecurity issues and giving low-income areas  more access to farmers markets, making fun, healthy cooking classes available, and affecting policy changes - like requiring schools to have healthy foods and provide physical education classes and recess daily.

“The goal is to create the conditions that encourage healthy behavior,” Auerbach said.

The report does point to at least one bright spot in certain settings where policies and programs have made it easier to eat well and exercise. For example, the obesity rate among children enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program declined between 2011 and 2014.

The report offers 40 recommendations for federal, state and local policymakers; the restaurant and food industries; and the healthcare system, including:

  • Support and expand policies and programs aimed at addressing obesity at the federal, state and community levels, including programs in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, and community health programs like the Racial and Ethnic Approaches for Community Health program (REACH), and programs that focus on school health in CDC’s Division of Population Health.
  • Maintain and strengthen essential nutrition supports for low-income children, families and individuals through programs — like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and expand programs and pilots to make healthy food more available and affordable through the program.
  • Maintain nutrition standards for school meals that were in effect prior to USDA’s interim final rule from November 2017, as well as current nutrition standards for school snacks.
  • States should ensure that all students receive at least 60 minutes of physical education or activity during each school day.
  • Medicare should encourage eligible beneficiaries to enroll in obesity counseling as a covered benefit, and, evaluate its use and effectiveness. Health plans, medical schools, continuing medical education, and public health departments should raise awareness about the need and availability of these services.
  • Food and beverage companies should eliminate children’s exposure to advertising and marketing of unhealthy products.
  • Hospitals should no longer sell or serve sugary drinks on their campuses; they should also improve the nutritional quality of meals and promote breastfeeding.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.