New data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation tells us exactly which states have the highest and lowest percentage of obese citizens.
The study, based on 2013 data, is pretty eye-opening, especially when one looks at the previous maps of the US from 1990-2013 using similarly-collected data. Turns out that most recently, West Virginia has the highest obesity rate in the US (35.1%, narrowly topping Mississippi (also approximately 35.1%). The rest of the top ten isn't altogether surprising: Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Indiana, and South Carolina. At the other end of the spectrum, Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the country at 21.3%, followed by Hawaii, DC, Massachusetts, Utah (OK, this actually makes a lot of sense), California, Montana, Vermont, Connecticut, and New York.
Interestingly, when you look at obese 10-17 year olds, DC is right there with the usual suspects, coming in at the third-highest rate at 21.4%. The same principle applies in obese low income 2-4 year olds, where California is first (16.8%), and Massachusetts (16.4%) and Connecticut (15.8%) are both in the top five.*
Obesity rates have been on the steady increase everywhere; while individual states like Hawaii may show a single-year decline, the upward trendline is still unmistakable. And while many people find it comforting to just say "IT'S CAUSE DEM FATTIES DUN'T EXERCISE/EAT TOO MUCH!" that's a reductive, simplistic answer that doesn't tell the whole story. It's true that overeating is an issue, and it's even more true that sedentary lifestyles and a lack of exercise contribute to the numbers. But there are numerous other causes, many of which are poorly understood (in part because people gravitate towards the simple answer that "it's the fatties' fault, end of story). The increasing prevalence of cheap, processed food is most likely having the biggest effect.
Part of this also has to do with how we classify and regard obesity. Anyone who doesn't realize BMI is a dumbass way to measure obesity at this point is willfully lying to themselves, but the more important aspect of this is that a person's weight does not direct correlate to their actual health. Numerous people classified as obese under the current system are perfectly healthy, while plenty of thin people have serious diet-related health issues like high cholesterol.
Because I know there are going to be a lot of people crying that healthy obese people are a false argument, here's an example of a friend who posted the results of her biometric screening a week and a half ago (reposted with permission). Note that at 195 lbs, she's considered obese. Also, take note of all the other numbers, along with the recommended levels:
She also sent me a photo of the actual slip specifically because she was concerned people would accuse her of filling in false data:
It's also worth noting that the health counselors for this screening were on the right side of the issue: at both this and the last screening, they told her not to worry about her weight unless her waist circumference reached the cutoff, and even then to pay more attention to the blood work than the weight number. If health care professionals are saying "weight isn't nearly as important as health," the rest of the US has no damn excuse.
Now, is this to say "everyone who is obese is healthy?" Of course not. But if we're relying on the "obese people make health care cost more for the rest of us" argument, the focus needs to be on health rather than weight. Snap judgments about any overweight person you see serve nothing but your own sense of self-aggrandizement, and you're the smug douchebag in that scenario.
So maybe don't do that? I know plenty of you still will, though; fat people are the last group it's societally acceptable to hate on. Just do me a favor and do it somewhere else, because I don't have time for that shit.
* The intersection between classism and weight gain is a huge issue, and deserves a lot more explanation than it could get in this post. Rest assured it's not being ignored, however.
Image via Sedlacek/Shutterstock.