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Adult Obesity Rate Bulges Over 35% in 16 States

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What You Need to Know

  • In one state, 39.7% of adults weighed in 2020 were obese.
  • Even in Colorado, the state with the lowest obesity rate, 24% of adults were obese.
  • Severe obesity may double the risk that an adult who has COVID-19 will die.

People jokingly refer to the “COVID-19″ as the number of pounds they have gained since the beginning of the pandemic. They may not be wrong, according to a recent analysis by the Trust for America’s Health.

“In 2020, 16 states had adult obesity rates at or above 35%, up from 12 states the previous year,” according to the report. “These and other emerging data show that the COVID-19 pandemic changed eating habits, worsened levels of food insecurity, created obstacles to physical activity and heightened stress, all exacerbating the decades-long pattern of obesity in America.”

The analysis is based on 2020 data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System. Obesity rates vary considerably among states and regions. In 2020, Mississippi had the highest adult obesity rate at 39.7%, followed by West Virginia at 39.1% and Alabama at 39%. Colorado had the lowest adult obesity rate nationally at 24.2%.

Reaching the 35% or higher level this year were Delaware, Iowa, Ohio and Texas. The 12 states that continue to have adult rates above 35% are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

“The epidemic of obesity is an urgent problem in the U.S. and has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said J. Nadine Gracia, president and CEO of the trust. “What is needed are transformational policies and bold investment in programs that reduce health inequities and address the social and economic conditions that are barriers to access to affordable, healthy food and physical activity.”

One concern is that obesity has a strong correlation with COVID-19 case severity. Patients under age 65 who had COVID-19 and a body mass index over 45, meaning that they were extremely obese, were twice as likely to die as comparable patients with normal weight, according to a study by members fo the CDC’s COVID-19 response team.

Here are some of the policy recommendations made by the authors of the new study:

1. Increase funding for the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

This investment should include at least $125 million in FY2022 for CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity and $102.5 million in FY2022 for CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health to ensure sufficient and equitable funding for obesity prevention programs in all 50 states, officials said.

2. Make healthy school meals free for all students as a step to end child hunger and ensure access to healthy foods.

Officials called for protecting the recent expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and enhance access to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

3. Change the tax rules related to the advertising of unhealthy food and beverages to children.

Officials said, for example, that the government should increase the price of sugary drinks through an excise tax, with tax revenue allocated to local efforts to reduce health and socioeconomic disparities and obesity prevention programs.

4. Ensure that every resident has safe and convenient access to walking and biking trails, and that all students have safe routes to walk or bike to school.

State and local education agencies should prioritize physical activity during the school day, officials said.

5. Expand access to health insurance.

Insurance plans should cover all U.S. Preventive Services Task Force “A” or “B” recommendations for obesity prevention programs, with no cost-sharing to the patient, officials said.

(Image: Adobe Stock)