America’s unyielding obesity epidemic has continued to rear its ugly head in spite of state and nationwide programs meant to encourage a healthy diet and increase physical activity. The 11th annual State of Obesity report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has revealed that while obesity rates in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Wyoming have increased in the past year, no states have been able to quell their struggle with weight gain.

"Obesity in America is at a critical juncture. Obesity rates are unacceptably high, and the disparities in rates are profoundly troubling," Dr. Jeffrey Levi executive director of TFAH said in a statement. "We need to intensify prevention efforts starting in early childhood, and do a better job of implementing effective policies and programs in all communities — so every American has the greatest opportunity to have a healthy weight and live a healthy life.

Obesity rates in 20 U.S. states have reached 30 percent or more, with the lowest rates occurring in Colorado at 21.3 percent. Mississippi and West Virginia have tied as the states with the highest rate of adult obesity at 35.1 percent, with Arkansas coming in as a close second at 34.6 percent. Similar to recent years, southern states have rounded out the top 10 highest obesity rates, including Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Indiana, and South Carolina. The number of adults in the U.S. who are considered “severely” obese has quadrupled in the last 30 years.

To help control and eventually lower the country’s rising obesity epidemic, the TFAH and RWJF researchers conducted in-depth interviews with public health experts from Black and Latino communities where obesity rates were highest. They found that promoting a heathier lifestyle may depend on the connection between obesity-prevention initiatives with other community programs to help expand access to inexpensive healthy foods and physical activity opportunities. Improvements must also be made to improve public knowledge regarding nutrition and physical activity while addressing cultural differences.

"While adult rates are stabilizing in many states, these data suggest that our overall progress in reversing America's obesity epidemic is uneven and fragile," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and CEO. "A growing number of cities and states have reported decreases in obesity among children, showing that when we make comprehensive changes to policies and community environments, we can build a Culture of Health that makes healthy choices the easy and obvious choices for kids and adults alike." Lavizzo-Mourey added that, moving forward, states should focus on the strongest prevention efforts that have worked, and should pay special attention to communities where obesity rates are highest.

The State of Obesity report also found certain age and racial/ethnic disparities among obesity rates in U.S. states. For example, Baby Boomers, aged 45 to 64, accounted for the age group with the highest obesity rates by reaching 35 percent in 17 states and 30 percent in 41 states. Obesity rates among black communities also reached as high as 40 percent in 11 states, 35 percent in 29 states, and 30 percent in 41 states. Obesity rates in Latino communities surpassed 35 percent in five states and 30 percent in 23 states.

Source: Levi J, Lavizzo-Mourey R, et al. The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America. Trust for America's Health. 2014.