Growing Obesity Rate Threatens America’s Poorest States
Policy + Politics

Growing Obesity Rate Threatens America’s Poorest States

REUTERS/Mike Blake

Every year, the United States sets a new record high obesity rate—this year climbing to 27.7 percent of the population. As the number of obese people expands, the cost of treating them also continues to soar.

Last year, researchers from the National Center for Weight & Wellness at George Washington University estimated that the annual cost of obesity to the United States is around $305.1 billion. That includes direct medical and non-medical services, worker productivity losses, disability issues and premature death.

Related: Americans Lose More Ground in Fighting Obesity

While the national average stands just under 30 percent, some states—often among the poorest in the country—have rates as high as 35 percent. A new Gallup poll shows that for the second year in a row, Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the country at 35.2 percent, followed by West Virginia 34.3 percent.

The two states have maintained these rates since at least 2012, according to Gallup. Other predominately southern states like Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky have also been among the top 10 states with the highest obesity rates every year since the polling firm began tracking this data in 2008.

States With Highest Obesity Rates - Gallup Percent
Mississippi 35.2
West Virginia 34.3
Louisiana 33.2
Arkansas 33
Oklahoma 32.6
Alabama 32.1
Kentucky 31.5
Indiana 31.4
Iowa 31.1
Missouri 30.9
Source: Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index January -December 2014

“Residents in these areas are less likely to eat healthily and exercise, and are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, diabetes, cancer and heart attacks. Obesity-related health problems could drive up healthcare costs and potentially have larger economic implications for states that suffer most,” Gallup pollsters wrote in a blog post. 

An analysis by NerdWallet last year found that, on average, states spend about $2.9 billion on obesity related costs.

Last month, the Center for Social Dynamics and Policy in partnership with the World Food Center of the University of California-Davis released a study estimating that the public health costs of obesity over a person’s lifetime average about $92,235 more than a person with a normal body weight. 

States With Lowest Obesity Rates - Gallup Percent
Hawaii 19
Colorado 20.3
Montana 23.5
California 23.9
Massachusetts 24
Idaho 24.2
South Dakota 24.6
New York 24.7
Minnesota 24.8
Connecticut 24.9
Source: Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index January -December 2014

Obesity is determined using the Body Mass Index, which is a ratio of an individual’s weight to height to determine their body classification. BMI indexes 30 and over are classified as “obese.”

On the other hand, the Gallup poll found that Hawaii had the lowest obesity rate in the country at 19 percent, followed by Colorado at 20.3 percent. Gallup’s Justin McCarthy and Diana Liu said Colorado has consistently ranked near the top—along with California, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“Obesity rates continue to be highest in Southern and Midwestern states and lowest in Western and Northeastern states, a pattern that has persisted since Gallup and Healthways began tracking the obesity rate in 2008,” the pollsters said in a blog posted on Gallup’s website.


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