Last year, obesity rates among adults actually dropped in four states. And they seem to have stabilized, for the most part, in the rest of the country. This news comes courtesy of a recent analysis from the Trust for America’s Heath and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
And this might surprise you, but I’m not too happy about it.
Granted, this is the first time in a decade the numbers on the scale haven’t gone up in every single state. So shouldn’t I be thrilled that obesity rates have stopped in their tracks?
Well…. no, actually. Because if this is the “new normal” we’re settling into, we’ve got some very big problems ahead.
Let’s face some facts, here: As recently as 1991, not a single state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. And yet now, a mere 25 years later, every last state in the U.S. has surpassed that mark. In fact, more than half of them have reached (or even surpassed) a 30 percent obesity rate.
By 2014 a whopping 38 percent of adults were obese nationwide. (That’s compared to just under 35 percent in 2012, and just over 30 percent in 2000, according to the CDC.)
We’re talking one in three adults who are obese — leaving them at high risk for any number of diseases, from diabetes to caner. So even if these statistics aren’t getting any worse, if they’re not getting much better, is that really something we should be celebrating?
You know my answer. But since we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at the rest of this study’s findings.
The lowest obesity rate in the nation was Colorado’s, at just over 29 percent. The highest, meanwhile, was Louisiana, at 36.2 percent — followed by Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia, all three of which came in at just over 35 percent.
Obesity rates declined in Minnesota, Montana, New York, and Ohio — down to 26.1 percent, 23.6 percent, 25 percent, and 29.8 percent respectively. And they rose in both Kansas and Kentucky, to just over 34 percent each.
These geographic patterns have held steady over the years, with the obesity epidemic hitting the Southern states the hardest, followed by the Midwest, while the Northeastern and Western states fared better, overall.
Of course, even then, we’re still talking about obesity rates averaging well over a quarter of the adult population. Not exactly a reassuring finding.
But perhaps there is some good news.
While adult obesity rates have continued to rocket over recent years, rates among kids and teens aged 2 to 19 have held steady at about 17 percent for well over a decade now. While obesity rates among very young children — aged 2 to 5 — are declining.
I don’t know that I’d call that a victory. But it’s a slightly more optimistic outlook than we’ve seen in other populations, at least.
It’s also worth noting that the number of anti-obesity campaigns in play have been rising steadily, too. For example, a total of 18 states plus Washington D.C. now require physical education in elementary schools. And in L.A. at least, farmers’ markets are now required to accept Supplemental and Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards.
And you can find a lot of initiatives cropping up on the local level, too. Like the Citibike program here in NYC, for example. Or nutrition education campaigns in local grocery stores. Not to mention community programs that make it easier for children to walk or bike to school. (One Minnesota middle school saw the number of walking or biking students rise by 40 percent in a single year thanks to these changes.)
Baby steps…but progress nonetheless.
At the very least, it gives me hope that we can stop this epidemic, if we really get serious and double down on our resources. We ate our way into this mess…and with the government’s help, we can eat (and move) our way out of it.
That is, if the powers-that-be take these latest numbers as the warning sign they are — and not as an excuse to sit back and declare their current half-hearted efforts a success.