DENVER — Not only does Colorado have the nation’s thinnest air, it’s also home to the country’s skinniest people.
A report released Thursday ranked Colorado once again as the least-overweight state, with just 19.8 percent of adults considered obese. Colorado was also the only state with an adult obesity rate below 20 percent, according to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011,” an annual survey from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The District of Columbia also earned some bragging rights by ranking as the second-thinnest jurisdiction behind Colorado, with an adult obesity rate of 21.7 percent of the population.
At the other end of the scale, Mississippi won the title of fattest state for the seventh year in a row, with an adult obesity rate of 34.4 percent, followed by Alabama at 32.3 percent. In fact, the nine chubbiest states all hailed from the South.
Coloradans may be less overweight than their fellow Americans, but that’s somewhat akin to being the tallest building in Topeka. Fifteen years ago, Colorado’s adult obesity rate was 10.7 percent, making it the second-skinniest state.
Twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate over 15 percent, while today, 38 states have obesity rates over 25 percent. What’s more, 16 states saw increases in their obesity rates, while no state recorded a decline.
The trust, which began publishing the report in 1995, defines adult obesity as having a body-mass index of 30 or greater. Body mass is determined by a ratio of weight to height.
“Today, the state with the lowest obesity rate would have had the highest rate in 1995,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health. “There was a clear tipping point in our national weight gain over the last 20 years, and we can’t afford to ignore the impact obesity has had on our health and corresponding health care spending.”
Obesity rates have doubled in seven states and increased by at least 90 percent in 10 others. Oklahoma, Alabama and Tennessee have the fastest-growing rates of obesity, while the slowest rates were posted in Washington, D.C., Colorado and Connecticut.
The report also showed that racial minorities and adults with less education and lower incomes continue to post the highest obesity rates. Nearly 33 percent of adults who did not graduate from high school are considered obese, as opposed to 21.5 percent of college and technical-school graduates.
The report attributed rising obesity rates to lower activity levels coupled with greater access to high-caloric, less nutritious food. Recommendations included more federal spending for programs such as the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
But government efforts to curb obesity have sparked debate over how much control the public sector should have over individual eating habits. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law last year barring fast-food outlets from giving away toys with high-fat meals, prompting kudos from public-health watchdogs and cries of “nanny state” from critics.
The food industry has argued in favor of self-regulation over government regulation. Many food chains, including fast-food giants McDonald’s and Burger King, have made efforts in recent years to curb caloric intake by reducing portion sizes and offering healthier alternatives.
First lady Michelle Obama has made battling childhood obesity the focus of her tenure. She launched Let’s Move!, an initiative designed to encourage children to exercise, in 2010, bringing in high-profile partners such as Wal-Mart and Major League Baseball.