TOPEKA — Kansas was the lone state to reduce prevalence of obesity among adults during 2016 based on a national report released Thursday affirming entrenched racial and ethnic disparities in the state’s population of profoundly overweight residents.
The overall obesity rate in Kansas declined to 31.2 percent from 34.2 percent in 2015, while none of the other 49 states or District of Columbia moved the dial in the positive direction. The 2016 percentage for Kansas was slightly lower than rates in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri. Each of these four states remained above 30 percent, significantly higher than the 22.3 percent for Colorado — the lowest incidence of obesity in the nation.
“We are excited to see some progress in Kansas,” said Don Schwarz, a vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, co-sponsor of the obesity report. “It’s always hard for us to say why a rate goes up or down over the course of a year.”
He said the shift in Kansas could be attributable to a statewide program assisting businesses with obesity-prevention efforts.
Obesity can increase blood pressure, a leading cause of stroke and contributor to high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
The 14th annual review by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health revealed obesity in Kansas was present among 43.1 percent of blacks, 35.2 percent of Latinos and 31.5 percent of whites in 2016.
Kansas’ adult obesity rate last year by age: 18 to 25 years, 19.8 percent; 26 to 44, 32.3 percent; 45 to 64, 36.4 percent; and 65 and above, 28.9 percent. In terms of the state’s youth, the rate was 14.2 percent for those 10 to 17 years of age and 12.8 percent among children 2 to 4 years old.
In Kansas, the broad rate declined from 34.2 percent in 2015, dropping the state’s ranking from seventh-highest in the United States to 22nd. The state’s rate of obesity in 2014 was 31.3 and stood at 30 percent in 2013. Kansas had a rate of 13.5 percent in 1995 and 19.1 percent in 2000.
The national report showed adult obesity rates last year exceeded 35 percent in five states, led by 37.7 percent in West Virginia. The rate topped 30 percent in 25 states and was above 25 percent in 46 states, based on statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Incidence of obesity in the United States has risen since 2000, when no state had a rate above 25 percent. Researchers believe findings in recent annual surveys suggest a leveling off of obesity rates.
“Obesity rates are still far too high, but the progress we’ve seen in recent years is real and it’s encouraging,” said Richard Besser, a physician and president of the Johnson Foundation. “That progress could be easily undermined if leaders and policymakers at all levels don’t continue to prioritize efforts that help all Americans lead healthier lives.”
In the past year, the percentage fell in Kansas and increased in Colorado, Minnesota, Washington and West Virginia. The rest of the country was stable.
Overall, nine of the 11 states with the highest obesity rates were in the South and 23 of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity were in the South and Midwest. Obesity rates nationally were approximately 30 percent among adults without a college education.
John Auerbach, president and chief executive officer of nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health, said policy advances in the fight against obesity were fragile.
“We’re far from out of the woods when it comes to obesity. But we have many reasons to be optimistic thanks to parents, educators, business owners, health officials and other local leaders. Our nation’s policymakers must follow their example to build a culture of health,” he said.