Obesity rises across US, but MA 4th thinnest state

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 7/12/2011, 11:12 p.m.

Massachusetts has one of the lowest obesity rates in the nation even as waistlines are continuing to expand across the Bay State, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

At 22.3 percent, the Commonwealth’s obesity rate is the fourth lowest in the country and exceeds only Connecticut, whose rate stands at 21.8 percent, the District of Columbia at 21.7 percent and Colorado at 19.8 percent. Southern states rank among the most obese, with Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky and Oklahoma all topping 31 percent.

Like other states with low obesity rates, Massachusetts also ranks highly for adult fruit and vegetable consumption.

 But the report isn’t all good news for the Commonwealth.

 Despite Massachusetts’ relatively low obesity rate, residents have still experienced a dramatic weight gain in the past 15 years, the report shows. The obesity rate in the Commonwealth has almost doubled since 1995, when just 11.6 percent of adults were obese. And the increase has not slowed — even in the past two consecutive years, the obesity rate has risen significantly. Alongside increased body weight, rates of diabetes and hypertension — chronic diseases related to obesity — are also on the rise.

Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher writes in the report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 110,000 Americans are killed each year by obesity.

“Not only that: obesity plays a role in many millions of cases of chronic illness, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis and cancer,” he says. “Even when they don’t result in death, these ailments can make life painful and difficult for patients and their families.”

Even with this sharp increase since the mid-1990s, Massachusetts retained one of the lowest obesity rates in the country because people in all states have become more obese. According to the report, 20 years ago, not a single state in the country had an obesity rate higher than 15 percent. Today, no state boasts of a rate that low.

“Today, the state with the lowest obesity rate would have had the highest rate in 1995,” Executive Director of the Trust for America’s Health Jeff Levi said in a statement. “There was a clear tipping point in our national weight gain over the last twenty years, and we can’t afford to ignore the impact obesity has on our health and corresponding health care spending.”

 In the past year, no state experienced declining obesity.

In addition to rising obesity rates, the report also exposes racial disparities in Massachusetts. Obesity is considerably more prevalent among minority adults — while 21.8 percent of whites are obese, 30.5 percent of blacks and 29.1 percent of Latinos are. These racial disparities are even more pronounced among women. White, black and Latino men are nearly proportionally obese, but 18.5 percent of white women are obese, while 33.4 percent of black women, and 28.1 percent of Latino women are.

This racial disparity also persists throughout the country. While black obesity rates top 30 percent in 42 states and the District of Columbia, white obesity rates top 30 percent in just four states.