The State of Obesity in U.S.

September 11, 2014

After decades of rising obesity rates among adults, the rate of increase is beginning to slow, but rates remain far too high and disparities persist, according to a new report.

Adult obesity rates increased in six states and did not decrease in any in the past year, according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, a report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The annual report found that adult obesity rates increased in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Rates of obesity now exceed 35 percent for the first time in two states, are at or above 30 percent in 20 states and are not below 21 percent in any. Mississippi and West Virginia tied for having the highest adult obesity rate in the United States at 35.1 percent, while Colorado had the lowest at 21.3 percent.

Findings reveal that significant geographic, income, racial, and ethnic disparities persist, with obesity rates highest in the South and among blacks, Latinos and lower-income, less-educated Americans. The report also found that more than one in 10 children become obese as early as ages 2 to 5.

“Obesity in America is at a critical juncture. Obesity rates are unacceptably high, and the disparities in rates are profoundly troubling,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. “We need to intensify prevention efforts starting in early childhood, and do a better job of implementing effective policies and programs in all communities – so every American has the greatest opportunity to have a healthy weight and live a healthy life.”

Obesity Rates by State Source: the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Obesity Rates by State
Source: the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Other findings from The State of Obesity include:

The rate of increase is beginning to slow, but rates remain far too high and disparities persist.

  • In 2005, the obesity rate increased in every state but one; this past year, only six states experienced an increase. In last year’s report, only one state, Arkansas, experienced an increase in its adult obesity rate.
  • Obesity rates remain higher among black and Latino communities than among whites:
    • Adult obesity rates for blacks are at or above 40 percent in 11 states, 35 percent in 29 states and 30 percent in 41 states.
    • Rates of adult obesity among Latinos exceeded 35 percent in five states and 30 percent in 23 states.
    • Among whites, adult obesity rates topped 30 percent in 10 states.
  • Nine out of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South.
  • Baby Boomers (45-to 64-year-olds)* have the highest obesity rates of any age group – topping 35 percent in 17 states and 30 percent in 41 states.
  • More than 33 percent of adults 18 and older who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, compared with 25.4 percent who earn at least $50,000 per year.
  • More than 6 percent of adults are severely** obese; the number of severely obese adults has quadrupled in the past 30 years.

The national childhood obesity rate has leveled off, and rates have declined in some places and among some groups, but disparities persist and severe obesity may be on the rise.

  • As of 2011-2012:
    • Nearly one out of three children and teens ages 2 to 19 is overweight or obese, and national obesity rates among this age group have remained stable for 10 years.
    • More than 1 in 10 children become obese between the ages of 2 to 5; and 5 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds are severely obese.
    • Racial and ethnic disparities emerge in childhood (ages 2-19): The obesity rates are 22.4 percent among Hispanics, 20.2percent among Blacks and 14.1 percent among Whites.
  • Between 2008 and 2011, 18 states and one U.S. territory experienced a decline in obesity rates among preschoolers from low-income families.

“While adult rates are stabilizing in many states, these data suggest that our overall progress in reversing America’s obesity epidemic is uneven and fragile,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO.

She said a growing number of cities and states have reported decreases in obesity among children, showing that changes to policies and community environments can make a difference.

The State of Obesity includes recommendations on healthy food financing, improving nutrition and activity in schools and child care settings, limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids, and supporting increased physical activity.

The report was produced by TFAH and RWJF, with support by a grant from RWJF. The full report is available at


Based on an analysis of new state-by-state data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, adult obesity rates by state from highest to lowest were:

Note: 1 = Highest rate of adult obesity, 51 = lowest rate of adult obesity.

1. (tie) Mississippi and West Virginia (35.1%); 3. Arkansas (34.6%); 4. Tennessee (33.7%); 5. Kentucky (33.2%); 6. Louisiana (33.1%); 7. Oklahoma (32.5%); 8. Alabama (32.4%); 9. Indiana (31.8%); 10. South Carolina (31.7%); 11. Michigan (31.5%); 12. Iowa (31.3%); 13. Delaware (31.1%); 14. North Dakota (31%); 15. Texas (30.9%); 16. (tie) Missouri and Ohio (30.4%); 18. Georgia (30.3%); 19. (tie) Kansas and Pennsylvania (30%); 21. South Dakota (29.9%); 22. Wisconsin (29.8%); 23. (tie) Idaho and Nebraska (29.6%); 25. (tie) Illinois and North Carolina (29.4%); 27. Maine (28.9%); 28. Alaska (28.4%); 29. Maryland (28.3%); 30. Wyoming (27.8%); 31. Rhode Island (27.3%); 32. (tie) Virginia and Washington (27.2%); 34. Arizona (26.8%); 35. New Hampshire (26.7%); 36. Oregon (26.5%); 37. (tie) Florida and New Mexico (26.4%); 39. New Jersey (26.3%); 40. Nevada (26.2%); 41. Minnesota (25.5%); 42. New York (25.4%); 43. Connecticut (24.9%); 44. Vermont (24.7%); 45. Montana (24.6%); 46. (tie) California and Utah (24.1%); 48. Massachusetts (23.6%); 49. Washington, D.C. (22.8%) 50. Hawaii (21.8%); 51. Colorado (21.3%).

Source: The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)

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