Waists are expanding rapidly in the US

By Kevin Freking

Washington - Obesity increased in 31 of the 50 US states last year, leading health officials to express alarm.

The southern state of Mississippi continued to lead the way. An estimated 29.5 percent of adults there are considered obese. That's an increase of 1.1 percentage points when compared with last year's report, which is compiled by Trust for America's Health, an advocacy group that promotes increased funding for public health programmes.

Meanwhile, the western state of Colorado remains the leanest state. About 16.9 percent of its adults are considered obese. That mark was also up slightly from last year's report, but not enough to be considered statistically significant.

The only state that experienced a decrease in the percentage of obese adults last year was Nevada, also in the West.

"Obesity now exceeds 25 percent in 13 states, which should sound some serious alarm bells," said Dr Jeff Levi, executive director of the advocacy group.

Health officials warn that a high incidence of obesity in a particular state does not mean it treats the issue less seriously than others. States have different challenges to contend with when it comes to obesity, said Dr Janet Collins of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Populations are not equal in terms of experiencing these health problems," Collins said. "Low-income populations tend to experience all the health problems we worry about at greater rates."

Indeed, the five states with the highest obesity rates - Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky - exhibit much higher rates of poverty than the national norm.

Meanwhile, the five states with the lowest obesity have less poverty. They are Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The leanest states shouldn't take a whole lot of comfort in their ranking, though, said Dr Jeffrey Koplan, a former CDC director.

"This epidemic is a nationwide epidemic. Some states are higher, some populations have it higher, but the trend has been up in every state, the trend has been up for every ethnic group, the trend has been up for rich and poor," Koplan said.

The group's estimate of obesity rates is based on a three-year average, 2003-2005. The data comes from an annual random sampling of adults via the telephone. The information is designed to help the government measure behavioural risks among adults. - Sapa-AP


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