CDC releases sad statistics regarding obesity in the US

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
obesity, BRFSS, CDC, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

On August 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its annual self-report health survey for 2011: the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). According to the survey, obesity is a nationwide problem. In every state, at least one in five individuals is obese. However, in the two states with the highest obesity rates, Mississippi and Louisiana, more than one in three residents are overweight. Furthermore, 10 other states are close behind with an adult obesity rate of more than 30%.

By state, obesity prevalence ranged from 20.7% in Colorado to 34.9% in Mississippi in 2011. No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%; 39 states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states had a prevalence of 30% or more: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia. The South had the highest prevalence of obesity (29.5%), followed by the Midwest (29.0%), the Northeast (25.3%) and the West (24.3%).

It is unclear whether the obesity rate has increased from 2010 because the CDC has changed its reporting system. Last year, the agency only contacted individuals with cell phones. This year, they have employed an improved system, which provides better sampling. The improved data collection method will increase the accuracy of the data; however, it also will void comparisons with past years. Both those things mean the statistics should be more accurate -- but also make comparisons to earlier years meaningless. The new 2011 data will be the baseline to which future BRFSS reports will be compared. The CDC does not actually ask individuals if they are obese; rather it asks for their height and weight and calculates the body mass index (BMI) from that information. A BMI greater than 30 is indicative of obesity.


The CDC notes that obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer; furthermore, these conditions are among the leading causes of preventable death. In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for individuals who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

Obesity impacts some ethnic groups more than others. Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity (49.5%) compared with Mexican Americans (40.4%), all Hispanics (39.1%), and non-Hispanic whites (34.3%). Obesity also varies by socioeconomic status. Among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men, those with higher incomes are more likely to be obese than those with low income. Higher income women are less likely to be obese than low-income women. Among men, there is no significant relationship between obesity and education; however, among women, there is a trend: those with college degrees are less likely to be obese compared with less educated women. Despite the foregoing differences, between 1988–1994 and 2007–2008, the prevalence of obesity increased in adults at all income and education levels.

Obesity rates for states in the US:
Alabama: 32.0
Alaska: 27.4
Arizona: 24.7
Arkansas: 30.9
California: 23.8
Colorado: 20.7
Connecticut: 24.5
Delaware: 28.8
District of Columbia: 23.7
Florida: 26.6
Georgia: 28.0
Hawaii; 21.8
Idaho: 27.0
Illinois: 27.1
Indiana: 30.8
Iowa: 29.0
Kansas: 29.6
Kentucky: 30.4
Louisiana: 33.4
Maine: 27.8
Maryland: 28.3
Massachusetts: 22.7
Michigan: 31.3
Minnesota: 25.7
Mississippi: 34.9
Missouri: 30.3
Montana: 24.6
Nebraska: 28.4
Nevada: 24.5
New Hampshire: 26.2
New Jersey; 23.7
New Mexico: 26.3
New York: 24.5
North Carolina: 29.1
North Dakota: 27.8
Ohio: 29.6
Oklahoma: 31.1
Oregon: 26.7
Pennsylvania: 28.6
Rhode Island: 25.4
South Carolina: 30.8
South Dakota: 28.1
Tennessee: 29.2
Texas: 30.4
Utah: 24.4
Vermont: 25.4
Virginia: 29.2
Washington: 26.5
West Virginia: 32.4
Wisconsin: 27.7
Wyoming: 25.0
Take home message:

It is likely that the obesity rates are actually higher than those reported by the CDC. When queried regarding one’s weight, it is not uncommon for an individual to subtract some pounds from the total.

Reference: CDC

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