The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the nation’s obesity epidemic, according to a new report.
In 2020, 16 states had adult obesity rates at or above 35%, up from 12 states the previous year. The changing numbers can partly be tied to the coronavirus pandemic, which “changed eating habits, worsened levels of food insecurity, created obstacles to physical activity, and heightened stress,” according to the report from the Trust for America’s Health.
Since the pandemic began, 42% of adults in the U.S. reported gaining an undesired amount of weight, according to a Harris Poll conducted in February 2021. U.S. adults reported gaining an average of 29 pounds.
People who struggle with obesity – having a body mass index of 30 or higher – are at greater risk for a range of diseases, including heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’re also at greater risk of coronavirus infection, hospitalization and death.
Adult obesity in the U.S. surpassed 40% for the first time in 2017-2018, according to the CDC, increasing from 30.5% in 1999-2000.
But some states have higher rates of obesity than others.
Mississippi had the highest rate of adult obesity in 2020, at 39.7%, according to the report, which uses data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. It was followed by West Virginia (39.1%) and Alabama (39.0%). Four states – Delaware, Iowa, Ohio and Texas – joined the list of those with an adult obesity rate of 35% or higher in 2020. Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee round out the 16 states that have met or exceeded the mark. On the other side of the list, Colorado had the lowest adult obesity rate of any state, at 24.2%.
“The epidemic of obesity is an urgent problem in the U.S. and has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” President and CEO of Trust for America’s Health J. Nadine Gracia said in a news release. “What is needed are transformational policies and bold investment in programs that reduce health inequities and address the social and economic conditions of people’s lives that are barriers to access to affordable, healthy food and physical activity.”