According to the 16th annual State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report released on Thursday by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), 25.7 percent of New Jersey residents have obesity as compared to the national obesity rate of 30.9 percent.
Obesity rates vary considerably between states with Mississippi and West Virginia having the highest level of adult obesity in the nation at 39.5 percent and Colorado having the lowest rate at 23.0 percent.
As recently as 2012, no state had an adult obesity rate over 35 percent and within the last five years (2013 to 2018) 33 states had statistically significant increases in their rates of adult obesity.
The report, based in part on newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), and analysis by TFAH, provides an annual snapshot of obesity rates nationwide. The State of Obesity series and this report were made possible by funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Obesity has serious health consequences including increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and many types of cancers. Obesity is estimated to increase national health care spending by $149 million annually (about half of which is paid for by Medicare and Medicaid) and being overweight or obese is the most common reason young adults are ineligible for military service.
“These latest data shout that our national obesity crisis is getting worse,” said John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health. “They tell us that almost 50 years into the upward curve of obesity rates we haven’t yet found the right mix of programs to stop the epidemic. Isolated programs and calls for lifestyle changes aren’t enough. Instead, our report highlights the fundamental changes that are needed in the social and economic conditions that make it challenging for people to eat healthy foods and get sufficient exercise.”
Differential impact among minority populations
The report highlights that obesity levels are closely tied to social and economic conditions and that individuals with lower incomes are more at risk. People of color, who are more likely to live in neighborhoods with few options for healthy foods and physical activity, and, are the target of widespread marketing of unhealthy foods, are also at elevated risk.
As of 2015-2016, the latest available data, nearly half of Latino (47 percent) and Black adults (46.8 percent) had obesity while adult obesity rates among White and Asian adults were 37.9 percent and 12.7 percent respectively. Incidence of childhood obesity was highest amongst Latino children at 25.8 percent while 22 percent of Black children had obesity, 14 percent of White children had obesity and 11 percent of Asian children had obesity.
While the obesity rates are alarming, there is new data offering the promise of policies that combat the epidemic, namely promoting healthier food for children through revamped Woman Infants Children (WIC) food packages and fostering behavior change through taxes on sugary drinks.