America is becoming more obese

The number of states with high adult obesity rates is increasing.

The share of the population suffering from obesity has risen.

According to the State of Obesity 2021 report from non-profit Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), 16 states had an adult obesity rate at or above 35 percent in 2020, which is up from 12 states in 2019 showing that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the nation’s eating habits, worsened food insecurity, created obstacles to physical activity, and heightened stress exacerbated the long pattern of obesity in the country.

The report is based on 2020 data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System and analysis from TFAH. It gives insight into the rates of overweight and obesity by age, race/ethnicity, and state of residence for U.S. adults, according to a news release.

TFAH is calling for action to be taken addressing the social determinants of obesity, the release says.

Since the start of the pandemic, 42 percent of adults have experienced weight gain, and the average weight gain among U.S. adults was 29 pounds. This can be a drain on the healthcare system as obesity is estimated to increase healthcare spending by $149 billion annually, according to the release.

Mississippi had the highest obesity rate in 2020 with 39.7 percent, followed by West Virginia at 39.1 percent, and Alabama at 39 percent. The lowest adult obesity rate, 24.2 percent, was seen in Colorado, the release says.

As recently as 2012, no states had hit the 35 percent threshold.

“The epidemic of obesity is an urgent problem in the U.S. and has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, president and CEO of TFAH, says in the release. What is needed are transformational policies and bold investment in programs that reduce health inequities and address the social and economic conditions that are barriers to access to affordable, healthy food and physical activity.”

Recommendations on policies that could address the obesity crisis contained within the report include:

  • Increase funding for CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
  • Make health school meals free for all students
  • Close tax loopholes and eliminate business-cost reductions related to the advertising of unhealth food and beverages to children
  • Increase the price of sugary drinks through an excise tax
  • Ensure that every resident has safe and convenient access to walking and biking trails and that students have safe routes to walk or bike to school
  • Expand access to health insurance including through the extension of Medicaid