Special Report

The States With the Highest (and Lowest) Obesity Rates

5. Kentucky
> Obesity rate:
33.2%
> Pct. physically inactive: 29.1% (8th highest)
> Pct. diabetic: 11.8% (7th highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.8% (6th highest)

Like many states, Kentucky’s obesity problem has worsened in recent years. The adult obesity rate increased from 30.4% in 2011 to 33.2% in 2013. Things are even worse for the state’s young adults. Among the Oklahoma’s ninth- through 12th-graders, 18% were obese, more than any state in the country. High obesity rates are associated with a variety of poor health outcomes, including high blood pressure and diabetes. In Kentucky, 39.1% of adults had high blood pressure, the fifth-highest proportion in the country, and 43.2% of adults had high cholesterol, second-worst in the country.

4. Tennessee
> Obesity rate:
33.7%
> Pct. physically inactive: 30.3% (4th highest)
> Pct. diabetic: 12.0% (5th highest)
> Poverty rate: 17.8% (12th highest)

As in every other state with nation-leading obesity rates, Tennessee residents were far less likely to exercise regularly than most Americans. More than 30% said they did not exercise at all in the past 30 days, the fourth highest share in the country. Also similar to other high-obesity states, Tennessee also had a relatively high concentration of fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s. A high prevalence of fast food restaurants does not necessarily lead to poor health outcomes and obesity, but it is often representative of fewer available healthy choices. In many areas of the state, residents had limited access to healthy food options, which partly explains the residents’ low fruit and vegetable intake. More than 46% of state residents reported eating fruit less than once a day, the sixth highest share nationwide.

ALSO READ: The Least Healthy County in Each State

3. Arkansas
> Obesity rate:
34.6%
> Pct. physically inactive: 30.5% (3rd highest)
> Pct. diabetic: 11.7% (8th highest)
> Poverty rate: 19.7% (4th highest)

Arkansas’ obesity rate has worsened in recent years. The proportion of obese adults rose from 30.9% in 2011 to 34.6% in 2013. One factor that will likely make it harder for the state to combat this trend is the low rate of physical activity among the population. More than 30% of state residents reported no recent physical activity, third-worst in the country. Kentucky’s obesity problem is likely exacerbated by poor diet as well: 47.5% of adults consumed fruit less than once per day, and 28.6% of adults consumed less than one vegetable per day, each third-worst in the nation.

1. Mississippi
> Obesity rate:
35.1%
> Pct. physically inactive: 32.5% (the highest)
> Pct. diabetic: 13.5% (the highest)
> Poverty rate: 24.0% (the highest)

Mississippi’s obesity rate of 35.1% was tied with West Virginia for the highest obesity rate in the country. As in most states with the highest obesity rates, poor socioeconomic factors play a significant role in determining the unhealthy lifestyles in Mississippi. The state’s poverty rate of 24% was the highest in the country, and a typical household earned less than $40,000 annually, the lowest median household income nationwide. Nearly 51% of state residents reported consuming fruits less than once daily, and 32.5% said they did not exercise at all in the past 30 days, both the highest percentages in the country. Unhealthy behaviors such as these contributed to the obesity rate, which in turn helped lead to other poor health outcomes. There were 240 heart disease-related deaths per 100,000 Mississippians, for example, the highest rate compared to all states.

ALSO READ: The States With the Most McDonald’s

1. West Virginia
> Obesity rate:
35.1%
> Pct. physically inactive: 32.5% (2nd highest)
> Pct. diabetic: 12.9% (2nd highest)
> Poverty rate: 18.5% (10th highest)

West Virginia moved from fourth in the nation to first, based on the most recent year of obesity data, tying Mississippi for the highest obesity rate. A good education has been linked to lower rates of obesity among a population. However, West Virginia had one of the worst educational attainment rates in the country. Only 18.9% of the state’s adults had a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than 10 percentage points lower than the national rate. West Virginia also has the second-lowest rate of physical activity reported among adults, which has also likely contributed to the state’s obesity problem. State residents suffer from many of the health problems associated with obesity. West Virginia had the third-highest rate of high cholesterol, is tied for the second-highest rate of diabetes, and has relatively more adults with high blood pressure than in any other state.

Click here to see the states with the lowest obesity rates.

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