Kentucky kids have nation’s second highest obesity rate

Published 11:42 am Thursday, September 28, 2023

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By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News

Kentucky ties with Wisconsin for the nation’s ninth-highest adult obesity rate, an improvement from second-highest last year, but Kentucky children aged 10-17 still have one of the nation’s highest rates, No. 2, after ranking first last year.

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The 20th annual State of Obesity report from Trust for America’s Health says 37.7% of Kentucky adults are obese and nearly 72% of the state’s adults are either obese or overweight, tied for sixth place with Delaware. Among the state’s high-school students, 19.6% of them are obese and 16.2% are overweight.

Nationally, the report says the number of obese adults continues to rise, noting that 22 states had an 2022 adult obesity rate at or above 35%, up from 19 states in 2021. A a decade ago no state had an adult obesity rate at or above 35%, the report says.

“Since TFAH’s initial report, published in 2004, the national adult obesity rate has increased by 37 percent and the national youth obesity rate increased by 42 percent,” says the report.

The national adult obesity rate is 42% and the national rate for children ages 2 to 19 is nearly 20%, according to the report.

The good news is that from 2021 to 2022, Kentucky’s adult obesity rate declined 6.4%, or 2.6 percentage points, to 37.7% from 40.3%. But that was still above the levels of 2018, 2019 and 2020.

West Virginia (41%), Louisiana (40.1%), Oklahoma (40.0%), and Mississippi (39.5%) have the highest rates of adult obesity. The District of Columbia (24.3%), Colorado (25.0%), and Hawaii (25.9%) have the lowest adult obesity rates.

“It’s critical to recognize that obesity is a multifactored disease involving much more than individual behavior,” Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, said in a news release. “In order to stem the decades-long trend of increasing obesity rates we have to acknowledge that the obesity crisis is rooted in economic, health, and environmental inequities. Ensuring all people and communities have equitable opportunity and access to healthy food and physical activity is fundamental to addressing this crisis.”

Kentucky continues to struggle with all of these conditions. It ranks fifth worst for the percentage of adults with diabetes (15%) and hypertension (40.3%), and nearly 27% of its adults are physically inactive, ninth worst.

The report shows that more adult men than adult women are obese in Kentucky: 38.7% of men and 36.7% of women, a switch from last year’s report. Kentucky’s adult men have the second highest obesity rate in the nation; its women rank 18th, tied with Texas.

By age, Kentucky adults between 45 and 64 have the highest obesity rate, 42%. That’s followed by those 25-44 (41.2%), 65 and older (33.7%) and 18 to 24 (24.1%).

“Solving the nation’s obesity crisis will require addressing the economic and structural factors that impact where people live and their access to employment, transportation, healthcare, affordable and healthy food, and places to be physically active,” says the report, which includes policy steps to address the crisis that they say should be taken by federal, state and local officials and stakeholders. They include:

• Fully fund the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s proven chronic disease and obesity prevention programs so they reach every state.

• Make healthy school meals available for all students and increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition support programs.

• Implement a mandatory front-of-package labeling system on food packaging to help consumers make informed choices.

• Close tax loopholes and eliminate business-cost deductions for advertising unhealthy food to children.

• Make physical activity and the built environment safer and more accessible for everyone, including by increasing federal education funding for health and physical education and investing in active transportation projects like pedestrian and bike paths.