The number of US states with high levels of obesity has almost doubled in two years, official figures reveal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday that there were 16 states where 35 percent of residents were classified as obese last year, compared to 12 states in 2019 and nine in 2018.
The picture was much worse for people of color, with 22 states meeting the limit for Latin Americans and 35 states plus the District of Columbia meeting it for blacks. For white people, the number was seven.
Officials warned that the trend puts Americans at increased risk for death or serious illness from Covid-19, which tends to be more dangerous for people with a high body mass index (BMI).
BMI is a blunt measure of body fat that simply compares a person’s weight with their height, with scores over 30 counting as overweight. It is less accurate for individuals than for large groups of people, and its connection to actual health varies between ethnic groups.
The CDC said: “Changing the current course of obesity will require sustained, comprehensive action by all sections of society. We will need to recognize existing health inequalities and inequalities and address the social determinants of health, such as poverty and lack of access to health care, if we must ensure health. “
A report from the non-profit group Trust for America’s Health said the coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated the problem by forcing many people to reduce their physical activity.
Although the CDC’s figures for 2020 were broadly in line with long-term trends, the Trust cited other studies suggesting mass weight gain during the pandemic.
On top of the forced lethargy of lockdowns, it blamed the stress and trauma of job loss, poverty, social isolation and other struggles to drag down American health.
“The pandemic has put many people and communities at greater risk of changing eating habits because of these social and economic disruptions,” said Trust CEO J Nadine Gracia.
Fatima Cody Stanford, a physician and obesity researcher at Harvard Medical School, told USA Today that stress was “the main cause we see for weight change”, saying it could lead to overeating and new food cravings.
Prior to 2013, there were no states in the United States with obesity above 35 percent. Since then, however, it has risen steadily, reaching five in 2016 and seven in 2017.
In 2019, the states that met this threshold were Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee. By 2020, they were joined by Delaware, Iowa, Ohio and Texas.