Special Report

States With The Best and Worst Diets

As researchers have shown time and again, a poor diet is the single largest determinant of unhealthy weight gain, and is a principal component of unhealthy lifestyles more generally. While exercise habits have remained roughly unchanged among Americans over the past several decades, obesity rates have skyrocketed. The eating habits of Americans are related to several different factors and are varied between states.

To rank the diets of each state, 24/7 Wall St. constructed an index based on five behavioral factors, including vegetable, fruit, and soda consumption by adults and high school students. California leads the nation with the healthiest eating habits, while Mississippi residents have the nation’s worst diets.

Click here to see how healthy each state’s diet is.

In most states with the worst diets, relatively few adults report regular fruit and vegetable consumption. Nationwide, 61.5% of American adults consume fruits once a day and 77.6% consume vegetables daily. In all but six of the 25 states reporting better eating habits, fruit consumption was higher than the national average. Similarly, only in five of these states was vegetable consumption worse than across the country. The opposite tended to be true for the 25 states with poor eating habits.

Partially as a result of the poor eating habits in these states, negative health outcomes such as obesity tended to be far higher than in other states. All but six of the 25 states with healthier diets had an obesity rate lower than the national obesity rate of 28.3%, while nearly all of the states with poorer diets reported higher obesity rates. A poor diet — and obesity — contributes to increased risk of a range of other health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.

These conditions may help explain the higher incidence of premature death in the states reporting the worse diets. Nationwide, an average of 6,622 years of life are lost each year due to preventable deaths per 100,000 people. In all but one of the 10 states with the worst diets, the incidence of premature death exceeds 8,000 years per 100,000 people. In all but one of the 10 states with the best diets, on the other hand, the number of years each year lost due to preventable death is less than 6,000 years per 100,000 people.

An unhealthy diet can also lead to other negative outcomes beyond poor health. Poor nutrition has been tied to a lack of focus among school children, and it can hinder children’s overall development.

Poor diets in general, and obesity in particular, have large economic costs as well. The annual estimated cost of obesity in America is between $147 billion and $210 billion. This excludes the cost of job absenteeism, which is more likely among overweight workers and is pegged at around $4.3 billion.

The high cost of poor health is likely both contributing to, and is felt more acutely in, the states with the worst diets. The poverty rate in most of these states is higher than the national rate of 15.5%. Among the 25 states with the best diet, on the other hand, the poverty rate is higher than the national rate in only three.

To determine the quality of diets in each state, 24/7 Wall St. constructed an index based on five behavioral measures: the percentage of adults who report consuming fruit less than once daily, the percentage of adults who report consuming vegetables less than once daily, the proportion of high school students who report less than daily fruit and vegetable consumption, and the percentage of high school students consuming soda at least once per day — all for 2013 from the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The incidence of premature death, measured in the average annual number of years lost due to preventable death prior to age 75 also came from the CDC. The percentage of households in each state with food insecurity or very low food insecurity came from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and is an average of survey data taken between 2012 and 2014.

These are the states with the best and worst diets.

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