For the seventh straight year, Mississippi has claimed a dubious title: the nation's fattest state.
That's according to the latest estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2011, nearly 35 percent of adult Mississippians were considered obese, according to data released on Monday (August 13).
Mississippi is one of many states weighed down by a costly — and even deadly — problem that's linked to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Eleven other states join Mississippi with obesity rates eclipsing 30 percent, with Louisiana, West Virginia, Alabama and Michigan rounding out the top five.
With an obesity rate of 20.7 percent, Colorado ranked as the thinnest state.
U.S. obesity rates soared between 1990 and 2010, according to the CDC. But this year's data is not comparable to past years because researchers tweaked the methodology in an effort to improve accuracy. The agency described 2011 rates as “high across the country.”
Regionally, the South edged out the Midwest as most obese, with 26 of the top 30 overweight states found in those two regions. The Northeast and West followed in succession.
“Obesity has contributed to a stunning rise in chronic disease rates and health care costs. It is one of the biggest health crises the country has ever faced,” Jeffrey Levi, director of the nonprofit Trust for America's Health, said Monday in a statement.
Total medical costs to treat obesity in the U.S. top $168 billion each year, according to a study published in 2012 by the Journal of Health Economics.
“The good news is that we have a growing body of evidence and approaches that we know can help reduce obesity, improve nutrition and increase physical activity based on making healthier choices easier for Americans,” said Levi. “The bad news is we're not investing anywhere near what we need to in order to bend the obesity curve and see the returns in terms of health and savings.”
Iowa, which ranked as the 18th fattest state with an obesity rate of 29 percent, is trying to grow healthier. Last August, Governor Terry Branstad unveiled an initiative aiming to make Iowa the nation's healthiest state by 2016, as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a broader scale that includes physical and emotional well-being and work environment among other categories.
The Governor said he hoped the state could save as much as $16 billion in reduced health care spending and lost productivity over 5 years.
In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, is well aware of the state's health struggles. In his first State of the State Address last January, Bryant called on Mississippians to work towards a solution.
“As citizens, we must do a better job with our individual health care. Every Mississippian should realize that a sound diet and exercise program will save lives and reduce health care costs,” he said. “We should not be the most obese state in the nation, leading the worst statistics of heart attacks and strokes.”
In 2011, under Haley Barbour, Bryant's predecessor, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill that would have created a 34-member council to combat obesity. Though the council required no state funding, Barbour vetoed the bill, saying it “adds to the fat of state government.”