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The number of states with an obesity rate of at least 35 percent has nearly doubled in two years, with continuing racial and ethnic disparities, according to research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sixteen states reported last year that at least 35 percent of their adult residents are obese, an increase from the 12 considered to have high obesity prevalence in 2019 and nine in 2018, CDC analysis released on Wednesday said. 

Delaware, Iowa, Ohio and Texas were the four new additions to the list of states with the higher obesity rate this year. They joined Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. 

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This represents a drastic change in about a decade, as the health policy organization Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) pointed out in a press release that no state went beyond that 35 percent threshold as recently as 2012.

Every state documented more than 20 percent of its adult population as having obesity, with the Midwest and the South seeing the highest rates at 34.1 percent compared to the West and Northeast. 

The analysis identified Mississippi, West Virginia and Alabama as having the highest adult obesity rates at 39.7 percent, 39.1 percent and 39 percent, respectively. 

Having obesity puts adults at a higher risk of enduring serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, several cancers and worse mental health. The analysis indicates that a growing amount of the U.S. population is more susceptible to such illnesses, which could put stress on the health system.

The research also highlighted the racial and ethnic disparities related to obesity. Thirty-five states and D.C. reached an obesity rate of at least 35 percent for Black residents, and 22 states hit that rate for Hispanic residents. 

In the meantime, just seven states had an obesity prevalence of at least 35 percent among white residents, and none reached that rate among Asian residents.

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The “urgent problem” of the obesity epidemic “worsened” during the pandemic, TFAH President and CEO J. Nadine Gracia said in a release that noted eating habits, food insecurity, lack of physical activity and high stress contributed to the rise.

A Harris Poll from February concluded that 42 percent of American adults experienced weight gain since the beginning of the pandemic, with an average gain of 29 pounds.

The CDC and TFAH are calling for the rising obesity rate and disparities in the country to be addressed, which the federal agency said “will take a sustained, comprehensive effort from all parts of society.”

“We will need to acknowledge existing health disparities and health inequities and address the social determinants of health such as poverty and lack of health care access if we are to ensure health equity,” the CDC said in its research.

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