Adult obesity rate on the rise, more than 20% Americans obese in all states with Blacks most impacted: CDC
The Midwest (33.9%) and South (33.3%) had the highest prevalence of obesity, followed by the Northeast (29%), and the West (27.4%)
Obesity is a common, serious, and costly chronic disease, and it is rising in the US, reveals an analysis at a time when the health condition is seen causing greater risk for severe Covid-19. Twelve states in 2019 had an adult obesity prevalence at or above 35%: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. This is up from nine states in 2018, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“All states and territories had more than 20% of adults with obesity. 20% to less than 25% of adults had obesity in 1 state (Colorado) and the District of Columbia. 25% to less than 30% of adults had obesity in 13 states. 30% to less than 35% of adults had obesity in 23 states, Guam, and Puerto Rico. 35% or more adults had obesity in 12 states,” write authors.
The Midwest (33.9%) and South (33.3%) had the highest prevalence of obesity, followed by the Northeast (29%), and the West (27.4%). The data comes from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an on-going state-based, telephone interview survey conducted by CDC and state health departments.
The researchers found that obesity impacts some groups more than others. Combined data from 2017-2019 show notable racial and ethnic disparities: non-Hispanic Black adults had the highest prevalence of self-reported obesity (39.8%), followed by Hispanic adults (33.8%) and non-Hispanic White adults (29.9%). While six states had an obesity prevalence of 35% or higher among non-Hispanic White adults, 15 states had an obesity prevalence of 35% or higher among Hispanic adults. Another 34 states and the District of Columbia had an obesity prevalence of 35% or higher among non-Hispanic Black adults.
Obesity decreased by level of education. Adults without a high school degree or equivalent had the highest self-reported obesity (36.2%), followed by high school graduates (34.3%), adults with some college (32.8%), and college graduates (25%). Young adults were half as likely to have obesity as middle-aged adults. Adults aged 18-24 years had the lowest self-reported obesity (18.9%) compared to adults aged 45-54 years who had the highest prevalence (37.6%), reveals the study.
Obesity worsens outcomes from Covid-19
According to health experts, adults with obesity are at even higher risk during the Covid-19 pandemic. Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from coronavirus and it may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a Covid-19 infection. Obesity is also linked to impaired immune function. “Obesity decreases lung capacity and reserve and can make ventilation more difficult. As BMI increases, the risk of death from Covid-19 increases. Studies have demonstrated that obesity may be linked to lower vaccine responses for numerous diseases,” cautions CDC.
“Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black adults have a higher prevalence of obesity and are more likely to suffer worse outcomes from Covid-19. Racial and ethnic minority groups have historically not had fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health, and these inequities have increased the risk of getting sick and dying from Covid-19 for some groups. Many of these same factors are contributing to the higher level of obesity in some racial and ethnic minority groups,” the findings state.
What can be done?
Obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors. The report says that neighborhood design, access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages, and access to safe and convenient places for physical activity can all impact obesity.
According to experts, the racial and ethnic disparities in obesity underscore the need to address social determinants of health such as poverty, education, and housing to remove barriers to health. This will take action at the policy and systems-level to ensure that obesity prevention and management starts early and that everyone has access to good nutrition and safe places to be physically active, they emphasize. “Policymakers and community leaders must work to ensure that their communities, environments, and systems support a healthy, active lifestyle for all,” recommends the team.
The authors say that systemic change takes time, as does long-term weight loss. They suggest that in addition to the steps everyone should take to slow the spread of coronavirus, individuals can help protect themselves and their families during this pandemic by eating a healthy diet, being active, and getting enough sleep. “The epidemic of obesity is impacting the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the added risks associated with coronavirus, we need to support all individuals, especially members of racial and ethnic minority groups, to live active healthy lives,” they conclude.