Tracking Obesity: Not All U.S. Regions are Equal

While workplace wellness programs continue to address one the biggest health issues — obesity — new data from Gallup indicates that more work needs to be done.

Gallup reports that “the national obesity rate reached a new high of 28.0% in 2015, up significantly from 25.5% in 2008, when Gallup and Healthways began tracking obesity. Fourteen states had statistically significant increases in their obesity rates from 2008 to 2015, while no state registered a statistically significant decline. Maine, West Virginia, Idaho and Oklahoma experienced the sharpest upticks in obesity.”

Regionally, things aren’t equal in terms of obesity. The report continues: “Of the 18 states with obesity rates of at least 30.0%, all but one are located in the South or Midwest. Meanwhile, all 11 states with obesity rates below 25.0% are located in the Northeast or West.”

Of course, obesity becomes a significant driver of medical costs.

Gallup: “Given that obesity is associated with illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer, the medical costs for an obese person amounted to $1,429 more per year than for a person of a normal weight, according to research conducted in 2008 by RTI International and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After adjusting for inflation, the annual medical costs for 2015 are $1,573 more for a person who is obese than for a person of a normal weight.”

“Gallup calculated the incremental cost of healthcare per year for each state by multiplying the estimated number of obese people in the state’s population by the annual incremental $1,573 cost of obesity per person.”

Said Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and founder of Blue Zones Project, in the piece: “We can reverse our nation’s growing obesity epidemic. The key is creating an environment that makes the healthy choice not only easy but at times unavoidable — so that people will eat less, eat better, move more and connect socially. Communities that have the courage to implement simple, evidence-based designs and policies that support lasting change, such as Los Angeles Beach cities, are seeing a measurable reduction in obesity and healthcare costs, and an increase in well-being.”