The State of Obesity in America

Diana Keeler
by Diana Keeler
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The State of Obesity in America

You know how it goes: A study comes out, ranking each state in terms of its levels of obesity. Colorado gets smug, Mississippi gets defensive, and all the states end up grumbling at each other. This year, according to the 2013 figures newly available from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we all have something to dislike. For the first time ever, not a single state had an obesity rate of under 20%. (The CDC defines being as obese as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.) The most-fit state—yes, still Colorado—clocked in with 21.3% of its population categorized as obese; Hawaii was a close second, at 21.8%. Meanwhile, West Virginia has joined Mississippi in last place: The two states tied, at 35.1%.

Numbers are just numbers, but here’s a startling fact: The first time the CDC published these figures for all 50 states was in 1995—and at that time, not a single state had an obese population of more than 19%. When this data was first collected in 1990 (not all states participated), “10 states had a prevalence of obesity less than 10% and no states had prevalence equal to or greater than 15%.” Over the next 25 years, those numbers would continue to climb.

By 2000, not a single state had an obesity rate of under 10%—but neither did any state have an obese population over 25%. Ten years later, in 2010, no state had a rate of obesity under 20%, and 12 states had an obese population over 30%.

If you were looking for a silver lining here, prepare to be disappointed. Now, 20 states have obese populations over 30%, and two—West Virginia and Mississippi—have just crawled across the finish line marking 35%. Of course, there’s more than enough bad news to go around. Regionally, the South fared worst, at 30.2%, but only barely. The Midwest now rates at 30.1%. The West did best, at 24.9%, while the Northeast found itself in the middle, at 26.5%.

But there’s no room for bragging rights here. Even our healthiest populations now claim obesity rates that would have had medical experts freaking out with worry just a generation ago.

How did your state weigh in? What are you doing to help your community battle the bulge? Share in the comments below!

Map: Centers for Disease Control

About the Author

Diana Keeler
Diana Keeler

Diana Keeler has written about travel, health, and adventure for The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Outside, and other outlets. She’s run two marathons and done P90X on five continents—but still struggles to cut fried shrimp from her diet. She once drove from London to Mongolia in a 1990 Nissan Micra; for reports and pretty pictures from some less demanding trips, follow her on Twitter and Instagram


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