It’s pretty clear at this point that the US (and other developed Western nations) are suffering from an obesity epidemic thanks to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and penchant for high-calorie, low-nutrient processed foods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimate that nearly three-quarters of all adults over age 20 are overweight and almost 40 percent are obese.
And although this is clearly a health crisis that unites people of many backgrounds through a shared problem, Americans rarely pass up a chance for a little state-to-state competition and ribbing.
In that vein, the credit score monitoring website WalletHub enlisted a team of health and nutrition researchers to compile publicly available 2017 data on rates of adult and pediatric obesity in each state plus the District of Columbia, as well as regional metrics of obesity-related healthcare costs, healthy food access, physical activity levels, and fast-food restaurants per capita, among many others. This data was then weighted for relevance and degree of influence and combined into one overall score. (For more information on the report’s methodology and data sources, check out the full version here.)
So, which state is currently struggling the most and which state is chock full of lithe, active citizens making the rest of us look bad?
According to this analysis (mind you, this is not a peer-reviewed study), the overall "fattest" state is Mississippi. The number two spot goes to West Virginia, though this state bumps down Mississippi to claim the worst health consequences rank.
The remainder of the top 10 is rounded out by Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas – all southern states. Given the south’s cultural traditions of comfort food and escaping midday heat by lounging leisurely in the shade, such a finding is not totally surprising.
As for the least overweight states, the top honor goes to Colorado. Home to the Rocky Mountains, gorgeous desert landscapes, and many tempting rivers and lakes, Colorado has always fostered an active and outdoorsy lifestyle in its residents. In fact, the National Recreation Economy Report for 2017 found that 71 percent of the state’s population is involved in outdoor recreation.
Rounding out the healthy bottom 10 is Utah (another highly outdoor-oriented state), Hawaii, Massachusetts, D.C., California, Montana, Connecticut, Vermont, and Oregon.
WalletHub’s report also includes some interesting commentary from the researchers that discusses the large-scale repercussions of our nation’s declining health. Ryan Olsen, assistant professor of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation at the University of North Texas, wrote:
“We know that obesity, as well as the associated health problems, creates a significant burden on the US economy and healthcare system. Obesity-related medical costs alone are upwards of $150 billion annually. These costs typically go directly towards things like preventive care, diagnostic assessments, and symptom treatment.”
“Indirectly, the complications associated with obesity including co-morbid conditions (e.g., hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, stroke, and some cancers) and loss of work hours can also affect the financial system.”
Because WalletHub is geared toward financial advice, Olsen and the other experts also shared tips for how to lose weight and maintain one’s health without breaking the bank. The group was unanimous in stating that the best course of action is also the simplest. Avoid fad diets and focus on nutritious foods while balancing your caloric intake with exercise. Eating out less will also spare your waistline and wallet.