The Fattest States in America

by | March 12, 2014 at 1:45 PM | Health

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By Thomas C. Frohlich, Alexander E.M. Hess, Vince Calio and Ashley C. Allen, 24WallStreet.com

Based on figures published by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 states with the highest percentage of the population that was classified as obese, measured by their self-reported height and weight. We also reviewed other relevant figures from the study, including data on healthy behavior, access and health outcomes.

Additionally, we also considered data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey on income and poverty. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service on food access was also considered. Figures on heart disease deaths and life expectancy at birth, both as of 2010, are from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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These are America’s fattest states:

5. Arkansas

  • Pct. obese: 32.3%
  • Pct. with high blood pressure: 36.8% (4th most)
  • Pct. exercise regularly: 52.5% (25th most)
  • Poverty rate: 19.8% (4th highest)

Arkansas residents suffered from more health problems linked to obesity than residents of most states last year. Nearly 37% of residents suffered from high blood pressure, and 13.4% of the population were diagnosed with diabetes, both among the highest rates in the nation. At least some of the blame lies in the residents’ unhealthy diets and poor habits. More than two out of every 10 people in the state smoked cigarettes, and only 54.6% of the population ate servings of fruits and vegetables at least four times a week, the sixth worst in the nation. As is the case with many states with high obesity rates, Arkansas residents earned less than the rest of country. The state had a poverty rate of nearly 20%, fourth-worst nationally, in 2012.

4. Louisiana

  • Pct. obese: 32.7%
  • Pct. with high blood pressure: 35.7% (6th most)
  • Pct. exercise regularly: 50.5% (tied for 14th least)
  • Poverty rate: 19.9% (3rd highest)

Louisiana has had among the highest obesity rates since 2008. More than 32% of residents were considered obese last year, a higher rate than all but three other states. Like many states with high obesity rates, Louisiana is a relatively poor state. A typical Louisiana household earned $42,944 in 2012, considerably less than the national median income of $51,371 that year. One factor that likely contributed to the state’s high obesity rate is the residents’ limited access to quality food. Nearly 10% of Louisiana residents had poor access to grocery stores and farmers’ markets, the fourth highest among all states. Additionally, 17% of adults in the state did not have a high school diploma, the fourth highest percentage in the country. Studies show that people who lack a complete high school education tend to make less knowledgeable decisions when it comes to health choices.

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3. Delaware

  • Pct. obese: 34.3%
  • Pct. with high blood pressure: 33.9% (10th most)
  • Pct. exercise regularly: 46.5% (the least)
  • Poverty rate: 12.0% (12th lowest)

Delaware’s population was the worst in the country at getting enough exercise, with just 46.5% reporting having exercised three times a week. This low level of physical activity may contribute to the state’s weight problem. Residents also did not eat particularly well, with less than 55% saying they ate enough fruits and vegetables at least four days a week last year, among the worst nationally. Unlike many other states with high obesity rates, Delaware residents were wealthier than most Americans in 2012. A typical Delaware household earned $58,415, among the most nationwide. The state, however, also boasts some of the highest health care costs in the country, which may explain residents’ poor health.

2. West Virginia

  • Pct. obese: 34.4%
  • Pct. with high blood pressure: 41.1% (the most)
  • Pct. exercise regularly: 47.1% (2nd least)
  • Poverty rate: 17.8% (13th highest)

West Virginia led the nation in several obesity-related health issues. As many as 41% of respondents reported having high blood pressure and 34% reported high cholesterol levels, the highest in the nation. West Virginians were also more likely to report chronic pain — whether in the neck, back, knee or leg — than residents of any other state last year. And 23% of residents cited other conditions causing recurring pain, also the most in the country. Like many of the most obese states, West Virginians were among the nation’s poorest residents, with a median household income of just $40,196 in 2012, third lowest nationally. Low incomes and prevalent obesity may partly explain why West Virginians rated their lives poorly in Gallup’s Life Evaluation Index — nearly half of all respondents said they were struggling last year, the most nationwide.

1. Mississippi

  • Pct. obese: 35.4%
  • Pct. with high blood pressure: 40.6% (2nd most)
  • Pct. exercise regularly: 50.1% (11th least)
  • Poverty rate: 24.2% (the highest)

Mississippi has been among America’s most obese states since Gallup started collecting data in 2008. The high obesity rate has had clear adverse effects on the health of the state’s residents. Chronic health issues often associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and headaches, were all common among state residents. Also, as is often the case with obese populations, Mississippi residents were more likely to suffer from diabetes. More than 16% of residents reported they had been diagnosed with diabetes as of last year, the second-highest rate nationally. Residents also had the lowest life expectancy in the nation, at just 75 years. Poor educational attainment, which may lead to poor health choices, also leads to relatively lower incomes. Just 82.3% of adults had a high school diploma in 2012, among the worst rates in the nation. And nearly one-quarter of Mississippi residents lived below the poverty line in 2012, worse than in every other state.

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To see the rest of the top 10 fattest states in America and to read more about this topic, click here.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.