Last week, the state further solidified its position as the nation’s fattest state in the annual obesity report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than one in three Mississippians – 34.4 percent – is obese. That’s once again the highest percentage in the nation, and the nation as a whole is getting fatter fast.
Colorado, this year’s least obese state, has an obesity rate of 18.6 percent. It’s the only state with a rate below 20 percent; 10 years ago, there were 28 states in that category. On the other end, no states 10 years ago had rates above 30 percent; now there are nine.
These figures are for adult populations only, so it doesn’t take into account the childhood obesity epidemic that’s received so much attention in the last few years.
Overall, 26.7 percent of American adults – about 72.5 million people – are obese.
The causes, of course, are many, but generally the poorer and less educated the population is, the higher the rate of obesity. This suggests a correlation of income and diet, since so much of the diet of less affluent Americans – including Mississippians – is cheap, high-fat fast food.
A culture fixated on electronic screens of all types, and a general lack of both intentional and incidental exercise – walking, for example – plus just plain overeating, are often cited as the reason for America’s obesity epidemic in which Mississippi is the unfortunate leader.
This isn’t just about looking and feeling good. Obesity is closely related to all the disease categories in which Mississippi rates so high. The CDC reports that obesity-related medical costs top $147 billion annually in the U.S. and that average annual medical costs for obese people are $1,429 higher than for others.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden put it bluntly: “We need intensive, comprehensive and ongoing efforts to address obesity. If we don’t, more people will get sick and die from obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of death.”
The best place to direct those efforts is at the young before hard-to-break habits become ingrained. Schools are working hard to offer more healthy meal choices and increased physical activity for students, even with all the new academic pressures and demands. But ultimately it will take a change in the culture that begins with good nutrition and a less sedentary lifestyle in the home.