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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Picturing Obesity Trends: The Animated Version

August 2, 2011

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an animated map demonstrating the rising rate of obesity in the United States over the past 25 years must be worth at least a million.

Check out this new offering from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows the epidemic of obesity spreading across the nation.

The statistics behind the animated map are startling:

  • One-third of U.S. adults are obese (33.8 percent) with a body mass index of 30 or more.
  • In 1990, 10 states (including Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity of less than 10 percent and no states had a prevalence of 15 percent or more.
  • By 2000, not one state had an obesity rate of less than 10 percent.
  • And by 2010, not a single state had an obesity rate of less than 20 percent. Thirty-six states had a prevalence of at least 25 percent, with 12 of those states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia) weighing in with an obesity rate of at least 30 percent.
  • Seven states have doubled their obesity rates in the past two decades.

While the obesity rate of Colorado’s adult population has remained among the lowest in the nation, the news is worrisome here too. Colorado’s rate has increased more than 80 percent over the past 15 years.  Colorado’s current obesity rate of 21 percent is higher than the nation’s highest obesity rate in 1995, when Mississippi was at 19.4 percent.

Many states are responding to the obesity wake-up call with efforts to change public health policy, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  Twenty-six states, including Colorado, have established farm- to-school programs. And 16  states, again including Colorado, now have Complete Street laws, meaning roads are designed to allow all users - bicyclists, pedestrians, drivers and public transit - safe access.

The report recommends further changes in policy, including:

  •  Implementing the National Physical Activity Plan: This grassroots advocacy effort focuses on public education, a national resource center, a policy development and research center and the dissemination of best practices with a goal of making the U.S. a more active nation.
  • Implementing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act: The report urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue a final rule on new school meal regulations and stronger standards for so-called "competitive" food and beverages - those sold outside of school meal programs, through à la carte lines, vending machines and school stores. (Note: The USDA issued its final rule June 29.)
  • Protecting the Prevention and Public Health Fund:  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains $15 billion in funding over 10 years for state and community efforts in preventive health, including obesity prevention.

There are other public health ideas out there. Some activists, for instance, want a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.  Others are working to lure grocery stores to underserved areas. Still others focus on the need for safe places for outdoor recreation.

Do maps like the one above have any effect on the way you think about food and the way you live your life? What are your thoughts on Colorado’s obesity rate? What about potential solutions? For more information, check out the CDC or the Trust for America's Health.