Nation keeps getting fatter; Mississippi leads way

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

CHICAGO -- With alarming new figures indicating that nearly 40 million U.S. adults are obese, the government has an urgent public health message: Get off your butts NOW!

Well, OK, maybe not in so many words, but pointing to a survey showing the nation's obesity rate continued a decade-long climb to reach 19.8 percent last year, frustrated researchers say the polite drone to eat a sensible diet and get plenty of exercise simply isn't getting through.

The obesity rate represented a 61 percent increase from 12 percent in 1991. It was 20 percent or higher in 22 states last year, while no state had a rate that high in 1991.

In addition, more than half of Americans -- 56.4 percent -- were overweight, compared with 45 percent in 1991, the authors said in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The increase has contributed to a parallel rise in diabetes, with 15 million diagnosed adult cases last year compared with 9 million in 1991.

Most cases are likely adult-onset diabetes, which can be brought on by being overweight and is largely preventable, said CDC epidemiologist and study leader Ali Mokdad.

According to the survey, obesity is the scarcest in Colorado. Health officials say the outdoor-oriented lifestyle helps keep residents in shape, accounting for an obesity of rate of just 13.8 percent. Colorado was the only state with a rate under 15 percent.

"We're a pretty exercise-friendly state. We have access to a lot of recreation -- ski resorts, trails, walking and bike paths," said Pat Barnett of Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment.

Mississippi had the nation's highest obesity rate -- 24.3 percent, and highest diabetes rate -- 8.8 percent. Dr. Ed Thompson, Mississippi's state health officer, said the findings aren't surprising, since Mississippi has large numbers of blacks and less educated residents -- factors linked with increased obesity and diabetes risks.

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