By 2030, Obesity Rates Could Top 60% in 13 States

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 18, 2012 -- America's weight report card is in. The grades aren't good, and they're on a path to get much worse.

Right now, 12 states have adult obesity rates above 30%, according to the report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012," issued jointly by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Mississippi had the highest rate, with 34.9% of its residents obese, defined as a body mass index or BMI of 30 or more.

Colorado has the lowest obesity rate, with 20.7% of residents obese. However, by 2030, 13 states could have obesity rates topping 60%, according to the report's predictions.

"We have a choice to make between a future where we continue to see dramatic rises in obesity and the diseases associated with it, or we take the steps that make our communities healthier and reduce that course," says Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit organization dedicated to disease prevention.

"If we stay on the current course, we could see obesity rates that are already unacceptable double in some states," he says.

Obesity Rates Today

The 12 states that already have an adult obesity rate above 30% include:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • West Virginia

The top 10 states with the lowest obesity rates:

  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • California
  • Utah
  • New York
  • Nevada (tie)
  • Connecticut (tie)
  • Montana

Obesity Predictions

Based on the projections, the 13 states that could have adult obesity rates of more than 60% by 2030 include:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • West Virginia

Along with rising obesity, the researchers say, will be an increase in obesity-related diseases.

If obesity rates continue on their current course, the experts found, the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and arthritis could rise 10 times between now and 2020.

It could then double again by 2030, according to the report.

Obesity Predictions: Solutions

If states could reduce the average adult BMI by just 5%, the researchers estimate, no state would have an obesity rate above 60%.

For an adult of average weight, the researchers say, reducing BMI by 1% is about equal to losing 2.2 pounds.

Obesity Predictions: Perspectives

The new predictions are higher than those made by some other experts.

"Our national estimate for 2030 was about 42% obesity overall in the U.S.," says Justin Trogdon, PhD, a research economist at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

That research was presented earlier this year. Their report took into account the possibility of the slowing of the obesity epidemic, he says.

Even so, Trogdon says, the new estimate ''doesn't strike me as unreasonable. It definitely seems within the realm of possibility."

The focus should be on those who have severe obesity, defined as those with a BMI 40 and above, says Roland Sturm, PhD, senior economist at RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif.

''The focus on moderate obesity [BMI over 30] misses the most disconcerting changes, which is in severe obesity," he says.

Much research, he says, suggests that moderate obesity rates have already leveled off.

Obesity Prevention, Reduction Steps

Public health programs encouraging healthy habits can help, Levi says.

Individuals can make small changes, too, he says.

"Be more active," Levi tells people. Replace an hour of screen time with an hour of physical activity.

Make small diet changes. "The change could be as little as one less sugar-sweetened beverage a day," he says.

Commit yourself to some small change, Trogdon says. For instance, decide not to keep snacks at home.

"I don't keep desserts at home," he says, "and I don't visit that aisle in the grocery store." He will occasionally eat dessert when dining out, he says.


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SOURCES: Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director, Trust for America's Health." F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012," Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Sept. 18, 2012. Justin Trogdon, research economist, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, N.C. Roland Sturm, PhD, senior economist and professor of policy analysis, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, Calif.

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