CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia leads the nation in obesity rates among adults at 39.5 percent, up over 1 percent from the previous year according to a report from the Trust for America’s Health.
The 16th annual State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report was released on Thursday by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), listing the Mountain State in a tie for the highest obesity rate with Mississippi.
John Auerbach, the President and CEO of TFAH told MetroNews that West Virginia leads the grim trend across the United States.
“Nine states had obesity levels over 35 percent in 2018, he said. “That’s up from seven states the previous year.
“For comparison, in 2012 there wasn’t a single state that had an obesity rate above 35 percent.”
The study indicates around 1 in 3 Americans have obesity, roughly 100 million people, and continues to get worse year after year, according to Auerbach.
West Virginia’s percentage of obese adults rose from 38.1 percent to 39.5 percent from 2017 to 2018. Auerbach said that the state has an obesity rate among children of 18.5 percent, a staggering number.
He told MetroNews that conditions in people’s lives are a main factor in a person’s health including income level and healthcare access.
“The higher the poverty rate, the more likely there will be obesity,” Auerbach said. “We know that lower-income neighborhoods have less access to healthful foods and even when they do, people can’t always afford them.”
Auerbach added several policies have been helpful to some states in lowering obesity numbers including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
WIC provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
“In West Virginia however, only 50 percent of those who are eligible for WIC are enrolled in the program,” Auerbach said. “One important step that could be taken is expanding WIC eligibility and investing enrolling more pregnant women and young children.”
Auerbach said other steps to take in an attempt to stop the growing the obesity percentage among children is monitoring physical education time, transportation use and the designs of streets.
He said West Virginia is one of the 19 states with a Complete Streets Program, which monitors transportation for children.
The report was based in part on newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and analysis by TFAH provides an annual snapshot of obesity rates nationwide.