Obesity Rates Across Nation and Vermont Reveal Alarming Trend

Obesity continues to be a problem for much of the nation, including Vermont. Not a single state in the US had a prevalence of obesity of less than 20 percent in 2014, according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, in three states — Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia — the obesity rate exceeded 35 percent.

The definition of obesity is a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI measures an adult’s weight in relation to his or her height, calculated by using the adult’s weight in kilograms, divided by the square of his or her height in meters.

The state with the highest rate of obesity is Arkansas, at 35.9 percent. Colorado has the lowest rate, with 21.3 percent. Vermont’s rate is 24.8 percent, the sixth lowest in the country. Using data collected from 2014, the CDC released maps this week to illustrate the rate of adult obesity state-by-state.

Obesity in Vermont

Jan Carney, MD, MPH, UVM College of Medicine Associate Dean for Public Health, finds Vermont’s rates of overweight, obesity, and related health risks near crisis levels.

“The risk is that overweight and obesity become accepted as the ‘new normal,’ at a time when too many Vermonters are overweight, obese, and not physically active. There are many evidence-based and practical approaches to help individuals of all ages and entire communities have access to healthier foods and places to be physically active,” Carney says. “Reaching every Vermonter in every Vermont community with the message that becoming physically active and eating a healthy diet are essential for lifelong health must become an immediate priority.”

Among the CDC’s findings:

  • No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent.
  • Five states and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity between 20 percent and <25 percent.
  • 23 states, Guam, and Puerto Rico had a prevalence of obesity between 25 percent and <30 percent.
  • 19 states had a prevalence of obesity between 30 percent and <35 percent.
  • The Midwest had the highest prevalence of obesity (30.7 percent), followed by the South (30.6 percent), the Northeast (27.3 percent), and the West (25.7 percent).

Meanwhile, Vermont’s adult obesity rate barely changed between 2013 and 2014 (24.7 percent to 24.8 percent), but the state ranked 6th best in the nation overall.

Hawaii had the nation’s lowest rate at 22.1 percent. Colorado (2nd), the District of Columbia (3rd), Massachusetts (4th), and California (5th) also had lower rates than Vermont.

“Vermont is doing well compared to the rest of the nation, but the bar is set so low,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Harry Chen, MD, in a press release. “Our obesity rate in 1990 was close to 11 percent, and now it is one of every four adults. That’s an alarming trend, and it’s unacceptable.”

Obesity increases the risk of many serious diseases and health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, and some cancers.

According to the Vermont Department of Health, 60 percent of adults in Vermont are currently overweight or obese, 29 percent of high school students are overweight or obese, and 75 percent of students report not meeting the national physical activity recommendation of 60 minutes every day. Twenty percent of Vermont adults report getting no leisure-time physical activity.

“Progress has been far too slow,” Chen said. “We are not satisfied, and we are working to make a difference in communities, workplaces, schools, and child-care programs to support people in eating healthy and being physically active where they live, work, and play.”

A link to the CDC report can be found at www.cdc.gov.

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