Americans are fatter than ever.
The U.S. obesity rate climbed to 27.7 percent in 2014, up from 27.1 percent in 2013, and significantly higher than the 25.5 percent recorded in 2008, when Gallup first began tracking obesity.
“With roughly 250 million American adults, a couple of percentage points means there’s over 5 million more people who are obese today than were obese back in 2008 in the U.S.,” said Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. “More states are getting fatter than are getting slimmer. It’s sobering but not surprising.”
Mississippi (35.2%) and West Virginia (34.3%) continue to have the top two obesity rates in the nation as they have since 2012. More than one-third of all residents in those states are obese. Along with Mississippi and West Virginia, the states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky have been among the top 10 fattest since 2008.
The usual suspects are contributing to the obesity epidemic in America: desk jobs, lack of exercise and bigger-than-ever portions.
“We’ve engineered natural movement out of our daily lives and while doing that the caloric density of food has continued to go up and those two things certainly aren’t helpful in reducing obesity,” said Janet Calhoun, senior vice president at Healthways.
To make matters worse, the truth is that the obesity epidemic in America is probably even more dire than the above numbers suggest because these statistics are all based on self-reported heights and weights and, well, people have been known to lie about how much they weigh.
“The actual obesity percentages are going to be about 20 to 25 percent higher than what’s reported,” Witters said, “so if you think it’s bad now, when you layer in that handicap, it’s probably a little higher and all the more reason to feel alarm over the trends that we see.”
Whatever the true numbers, overall obesity rates are highest in the Southern and Midwestern states and lowest in the Western and Northeastern states. A person who has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The 10 states with the lowest obesity rates since 2008 include California, Massachusetts, Colorado and Connecticut, while Delaware, Hawaii, South Dakota, Alaska and Tennessee had the best reduction in obesity levels between 2013 and 2014.
Nevada, New Mexico, Alabama and Minnesota had statistically significant increases in obesity in 2014, while only Tennessee was the only state to see a statistically significant decline in obesity.
Gallup and Healthways have found a strong link between obesity and the overall well-being of Americans. States with lower obesity rates generally have the highest overall well-being.
“With such a large percentage of Americans being overweight or obese, it really has become, unfortunately, the social norm,” said Calhoun. “It used to be that when the [obesity] percentages were much smaller, people noticed so we really have to be serious about how do we reset what the social norm is around our health as Americans.”
Obesity can be a costly business in the United States. Obese people miss more days at work and utilize $1,500 more per year in healthcare costs more than their normal-weight counterparts. Gallup-Healthways found that, as a group, full-time U.S. workers who are overweight or obese and have other chronic health conditions miss an estimated 450 million more days of work than healthy workers. That absenteeism results in about $153 billion in lost productivity each year.
“It’s no joke,” Witters said. “It adds up to pretty big bucks.”
At least the situation is sunnier in in the Aloha state, the nation’s slimmest, where 19 percent of people are obese. Fewer than one in five people is obese in Hawaii. Other states that consistently have low obesity rates are Colorado, California, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Results were based on telephone interviews with 176,702 adults conducted in 2014.