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West Virginia has nation’s highest obesity rate: Report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A new report finds West Virginia has the highest adult obesity rate in the United States.

The state’s obesity rate stands at 37.7 percent, according to the annual report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

MORE: West Virginia’s data

In 2016, West Virginia also topped the charts with high adult obesity rates, along with Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma and Indiana.

Colorado had the lowest adult obesity rate at 22.3 percent. Others with low rates include the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Hawaii, California, Utah, New York, Montana, Nevada and Connecticut.

By region, states in the south have the highest rates, while the lowest rates are in the northeast and western states.

MORE: View the full report

National obesity rates exceeded 35 percent in five states, 30 percent in 25 states and 25 percent in 46 states. In 2000, no state had an obesity rate above 25 percent.

John Auerbach, president and CEO for Trust for America’s Health, said West Virginia was among only four states that experienced obesity increases (joined by Colorado, Minnesota and Washington). Kansas was the lone state to see an obesity decrease and others remained stable between 2015 and 2016.

“Last year was actually the first time in 14 years of conducting this report that we started to see decreases in any state. The rate of increase has definitely started to slow,”¬†Auerbach said on a conference call with reporters.

Little progress is being made in the Mountain State due to a number of issues, said Donald Schwarz, vice president of programming for Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. He said high poverty levels can contribute to high obesity rates.

“There’s income inequality. There’s issues about access to affordable food. There’s a lack of opportunity for physical activity. It’s a very rural state and we know that obesity trends have tended to be worse in rural areas,” Schwarz said.

In West Virginia, 44.7 percent of adults ages 45-64 are obese. Adults ages 18-25 were at 26 percent. The 26-44 group are 38.2 percent obese. Adults 65 and older have a 32.4 percent obesity rate.

More men than women are obese in West Virginia. According to the report, men had a 34.5 percent rating and women had a 33.1 percent rating.

The break down is as follows for obesity rates regarding race in West Virginia: 44.6 percent black, 36 percent white and 37.7 percent Latino.

The report said childhood obesity rates have stabilized nationwide in recent years because of improvement in school and community programs.

“We’ve made significant improvements to the foods, snack and drinks provided in school and after school programs. Obesity screenings and counseling services for young children have given doctors more tools to support families living at a healthy weight. Hope visiting programs are helping parents and their babies get off to a health start,” to name a few, Schwarz said.

Auerbach said the purpose of the study is to show the trends in obesity rates in an effort to improve health by making it a priority.

“This report makes clear that we can make a difference and that we can see progress, but, unfortunately, we haven’t been investing at the level of intensity that is needed to really activate major national change,” he said.

Reccommendations to lower obesity rates are also provided in the report.

Auerbach said opportunities for physical activity need to be expanded in West Virginia, students need to be provided with healthier meals in schools, families need to be connected to community services through early education programs, residents need healthy food options in local grocery stores and need easy access to local walking and biking on paths and in parks.

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