Obesity rates stay steady, report finds

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More than 20 percent of residents in every state are obese, a report released Monday found.

Experts say the 12th annual “State of Obesity: Better Policies for Healthier America” showed encouraging results with adult obesity rates remaining mostly steady over the last year, but caution that rates are still more than double what they were 35 years ago.

The report released by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said the average American is more than 24 pounds heavier today than in 1960.

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Of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity, 23 are in the South and Midwest, with Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi exceeding 35 percent. Obesity in the report is defined as an excessively high amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass. An adult with a body mass index — or measurement of body fat based on height and weight — that’s 30 or more is considered to be obese.

The state with the highest obesity rate was Arkansas at 35.9 percent, while Colorado weighed in with the lowest at 21.3 percent, but the report found that obesity rates were substantially higher among black and Latino populations than in white populations.

Jeff Levi, executive director of TFAH, said preventing obesity among children is the key to solving this epidemic.

It’s easier, he said, to prevent obesity than reverse trends later.

Though the report did not uncover any new data on childhood obesity rates, it stressed the need for communities to improve nutrition in schools, child care settings and food assistance programs; increase physical activity before, during and after school; expand healthcare coverage; and make healthy, affordable food and safe places to be active more accessible.

According to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 13.7 percent of high school students were obese, and an additional 16.6 percent were overweight.