Obesity Rates By State And Ethnicity (2024 )

Obesity is, without a doubt, a public health emergency.

When you consider its downstream consequences, such as heart disease and diabetes, it’s hard to find a larger contributor to American mortality rates.

While we certainly aren’t qualified to opine on solutions, we at GetSure can help expose the problem, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Join us as we take a data-first look at the topic of obesity – exploring both the “where” of obesity (geographically and in terms of ethnicity) as well as the most widely-cited “why’s”.

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You never know what battles people may be fighting.

What Is Obesity? 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines overweight and obesity as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.”

Anyone who has a body index (BMI) of over 25 falls into the overweight category. Those with a BMI over of 30 are considered obese.

To get your BMI, divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared. Then, multiply your answer by 703.  (Or, check out this handy BMI calculator from the CDC).

Obesity Statistics by State 

Obesity trends and determinants are far from intuitive.  For example, surprisingly, obesity rates tend to be higher in rural areas. The CDC attributes this phenomenon to fewer parks for play and recreation. Also, people in rural areas may have to drive further distances to get to grocery stores and run errands. Residents of urban areas may have sidewalks, parks, and other recreational opportunities. 

The CDC also gives us data on the states with the highest and lowest obesity rates. Overall 18 states have an obesity rate of over 35% for adults.

States With The Highest Obesity Rates

West Virginia takes the lead with the highest rate of obesity at 41%. The high percentage likely stems from the state’s ailing economy. Rolling mountains dominate the landscape and isolate towns from food and resources (and the internet service often needed to order these).

Unemployment may be another factor in West Virginia as coal mines provided the bulk of the state’s employment. The closure of the coal mines dating back to the 1960s caused a decline in the economy and forced people to leave the state. Congresswoman Carol Miller says the focus on climate change has further taxed the state’s coal mining industry.

Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma aren’t far behind with an obesity rate of 40%.

The Louisiana government attributes the state’s obesity rate to poverty, genetics, stress, safety concerns, and the lack of access to parks and healthcare.

Regarding the neighboring state of Mississippi, an article in Time Magazine adds another factor to the mix: cultural risks. Southern states like Mississippi are known for high-calorie foods such as biscuits, gravy, barbecued meats, and fried chicken.  And just as there is little doubt this food is delicious, so is there little doubt about its impact on our BMI.

The landscape, food, and culture are far different in Oklahoma, so what contributes to obesity in this state? The Oklahoma State Department of Health points to the lack of fruit and vegetable consumption and the low rate of physical activity of its residents.

States With The Lowest Rates of Obesity

On the flip side, the District of Columbia ranks first with the lowest obesity rate of 24%. While there aren’t any studies to support this unusually low rate, it could be due to the denseness of the population and the fact that Washington, D.C., is very walkable.

Colorado ranks second with a low obesity rate of 25%, and Hawaii also does well with an obesity rate of 26%. Much like the District of Columbia, the major cities in Colorado are very walkable. Additionally, Colorado has an active outdoor culture with good access to hiking and skiing.

Check Out: Skydiving Deaths: A Statistical Overview

Choose kindness.

You never know what battles people may be fighting.

Obesity Rates by Ethnicity 

Second, let’s look at obesity rates by ethnicity. Overall, Black and Hispanic people are the most likely to present as obese. This could be due to these populations experiencing economic challenges. 

African Americans 

According to CDC data, the states of Wisconsin, Alabama, North Dakota, and Mississippi have the highest rate of obesity for Black people.

About half of the Blacks in Wisconsin are obese. Alabama is right behind with 49%, and North Dakota and Mississippi data is also high with a percentage of 48%.

Asian Americans 

Asian Americans tend to have a low rate of obesity. HHS data shows that Asian Americans are 40% less likely to have obesity than non-Hispanic white people.

The Asian population, however, is quite diverse as it includes people from a wide range of countries and cultures.

A closer look at the data shows that, among Asians, 70% of Filipino adults are obese while only 1 in 10 Korean and Vietnamese adults reported being overweight.

The states that have the largest percentage of obesity among Asians are North Dakota, Alaska, and Mississippi. About 28% of Asians in North Dakota are obese. Alaskan Asians with obesity come in at 25%, while the rate of Asians with obesity in Mississippi is 23%.

Hispanic Americans 

Rates of obesity are high for men and women in the Hispanic population.

Hispanic Americans are 1.2 times more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites, according to HHS data. While 40.4% of Hispanic men are obese, only 37.0% of non-Hispanic white men are obese.

The percentages are equally disparate with Hispanic women. Hispanic women have obesity at a rate of 48.9% as compared with non-Hispanic white women who have a rate of 37.9%.

White Americans 

The obesity rates for white Americans are lower than for Blacks and Hispanics, but higher than for Asians.

West Virginia takes the lead as the state with the largest percentage of obesity which is 40%. About 38% of people in Kentucky have obesity. There’s a four-way tie for the third-highest state with obesity – Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, and Oklahoma.

Why Is Obesity a Concern? 

How much of a health risk does obesity cause? Obesity statistics from the WHO tell the following story:

  • Being overweight or obese contributes to cardiovascular diseases which are the leading cause of death. 
  • Obesity can lead to diabetes and result in limb amputations or blindness. 
  • Obesity can cause kidney failure and affected people may need dialysis treatments. 
  • Obesity may be responsible for colon, gallbladder, kidney, liver, prostate, breast, ovarian, or endometrial cancer.
  • Over 300,000 people die annually because of obesity. 

Other research also points to health risks related to obesity: 

The Cost of Obesity

While the health risks of obesity are eye-popping, there is also a financial cost associated with being overweight:

  • One study shows that obese people can expect to pay 30% to 40% more for medical costs than people with a healthy weight
  • Another study showed that adults with obesity spend $1,861 more per year on average than those with healthy weights
  • People who have a BMI of 40 or higher could spend $3,000 or more per year for healthcare.

Overall, medical costs are higher for obese individuals, which can significantly strain a family’s budget. 

Well, first, what is poverty? HHS’ 2024 poverty guidelines (by the number of persons in the household) are shown below: 

2024 Poverty Guidelines in the 48 Contiguous States and Washington DC
Number of People in the HouseholdIncome Poverty Guideline
1 $15,000 
2 $20,440 
3 $25,820 
4 $31,200 
5 $36,850 
6 $41,960 
7 $47,340 
8 $52,720 
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation 

Those with an income below 50% of the figures shown above are living in deep poverty.

Past studies have shown that the rates of obesity are higher in states that offer their residents fewer resources. For example, Medical News Today states that wherever 35% of the people live in poverty, there is a 145% higher number of people with obesity as compared with states with lower poverty rates.

There are several theories on why poverty is connected to obesity. Some say that there is an associated link between poor nutrition and poverty. Impoverished households often don’t have room in their budgets to buy quality proteins and raw fruits and vegetables.

Another theory suggests people who perceive they will run out of food actually eat more as a survival response.

The Impact of Gender on Obesity Rates 

As for income related to gender, the obesity rate is fairly consistent for men at all levels of income.

There is no difference in obesity whether men had a higher education or not with two exceptions – the obesity rate is higher for Hispanic and non-Black men who enjoy higher incomes. 

The picture looks very different for women. Women with higher incomes tend to be in a healthier weight range than women with lower incomes. As for education, highly educated women are more likely to be less obese than women with little or no education.

Choose kindness.

You never know what battles people may be fighting.

Facts About Obesity in Teens 

Childhood obesity is a growing problem.  Nearly 20% of children in the United States struggle with obesity, according to the CDC.  This rate has more than doubled over the last 30 years.

The CDC also gives a breakdown of adolescent obesity related to certain ethnicities. Their report shows that:

  • 7.9% of non-Hispanic Asian adolescents are obese as compared with 12.5% of non-Hispanic white children
  • Hispanic children are 1.8 times more likely to be obese as compared with non-Hispanic white children.

Turning the Tables on Obesity: What Does the Future Hold? 

The facts and research show that obesity is a growing problem in the United States.

The high rates of obesity have a bearing on health and life insurance in addition to quality of life.

While it is up to each individual to make their health and well-being a priority, many states are stepping up to the plate to encourage healthy lifestyles. For example, some states are establishing chronic disease and obesity prevention programs. Others are supporting nutritional support programs, limiting unhealthy food ads, and creating more parks and green spaces.

While these steps are a good start, if we are to reverse the negative obesity trends, we’ll need to see continued commitment from both individuals and the government for many years to come.

Article Sources
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity Data & Statistics

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