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Mississippi and West Virginia are the most obese states

Obesity rates. (Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) Obesity rates. (Trust for America’s Health and
the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

Well, America, there’s good news, and there’s bad news about your weight.

The good news: The rate at which America’s waistlines are expanding is slowing (obesity rates are rising, just not as fast). The bad news: Adult obesity rates last year passed the 35 percent mark for the first time ever in two states, according to a new study.

Both Mississippi and West Virginia now have rates of 35.1 percent, while 20 states have rates at or above 30 percent. Colorado has the lowest at 21.3 percent. The findings of the 11th annual report from health-focused nonprofits the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and released last month.

Because of recent changes to the CDC’s methods, direct historical comparisons before 2011 are hard, but there’s no denying that rates have risen dramatically. Overall, they are now double what they were in 1980 (The CDC in 2011 began calling cellphones and implemented a change to how it weighs its statistical measurements.)

As the map below, based on interactive maps created for the report, shows, rates across the nation have risen dramatically over the past few decades. (If you would like to delve into state data, check out the interactive maps from which this animation was created.)

Obesity rates for 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2003 to 2013. (Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)
Obesity rates for 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2003 to 2013. (Trust for America’s Health and
the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)

There are also significant disparities not just by geography — the 10 states with the highest rates of obesity are all in the South and Midwest — but also by income, race and ethnicity.

At 56.6 percent, the obesity rate among black women is the highest by gender among whites, blacks and Latinos. Latino women have rates of 44 percent, while white women have obesity rates of 33 percent. Across both genders, black adult obesity stands at 48 percent, while Latino obesity is 43 percent, and white obesity is 33 percent. Among children, obesity is highest for Latino boys and girls, followed by black children of both genders, with white children showing the lowest rates.

The report includes a detailed examination of the obesity epidemic among black and Latino communities and comes to some policy conclusions on how it can best be addressed. Its recommendations include: using culturally sensitive communications, grants to help minorities open grocery stores, limiting advertising for unhealthy foods and ramping up federal, state and local efforts to fight disparities in obesity.

But there are some silver linings to the data: The rise in obesity appears to be slowing and, for the first time in a decade, data show obesity rates among young children from low-income families declining in many states. In 2005, the increase in adult obesity rates was statistically significant in all but one state. While many states saw rates rise last year, the increase was statistically significant in only six: Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming. The year before only Arkansas saw a significant rising rate.

The South was home to the 10 states with the highest rates of type 2 diabetes and hypertension and seven of the 10 states with the highest rates of obese children. Mississippi has the highest share of inactive adults at 38.1 percent. Those rates rose in 40 states last year.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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