Health & Medicine

We keep getting bigger. Kentucky’s obesity rate climbs to record high.

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Hawaii is America's healthiest state, Californians keep their smoking to a minimum and Kansas saw the largest increase in obesity in the 2016 America's Health Rankings Report from The United Health Foundation.
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Hawaii is America's healthiest state, Californians keep their smoking to a minimum and Kansas saw the largest increase in obesity in the 2016 America's Health Rankings Report from The United Health Foundation.

Obesity rates continue to rise in Kentucky and across the country, according to a new study.

In a country where more than 100 million people — or nearly one in three — were considered obese in 2018, Kentucky is one of only nine states where that group exceeded 35 percent of the state’s population, an annual Trust for America’s Health study released Thursday shows.

Ranking fifth overall, nearly 37 percent of the adult population in Kentucky self-reported to be unhealthily overweight — a 3 percent rise since 2017 and a historic high. The national rate is 31 percent.

Those rates, which have historically been worse in many Eastern Kentucky counties, jump to 44 percent for Kentucky adults between the ages of 45 and 64. Other high-ranking states include West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi and Iowa, according to the study, which used data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obesity, usually measured through body mass index, occurs when one’s weight is considered too high relative to their height.

Obesity rates among Kentucky children and youth between 2016 and 2017 were the second highest in the country, accounting for more than 19 percent of the population. Roughly 14 percent of adults in Kentucky also reported having diabetes — the seventh highest rate — and 39 percent said they had hypertension.

Many trends reflected in this latest data have remained constant through the years: lower socioeconomic status and education levels increase the likelihood for obesity, as does living in rural areas, where access to fresh, healthy foods is likely more limited.

Overall, Kentucky ranked 43rd for its distribution of healthy food retailers and distribution of other food infrastructure, such as farmers’ markets, of which there are three for every 100,000 Kentucky residents, the study found.

Dr. Barbara Fleming-Phillips of the University of Kentucky Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center, said there’s little in the report to be surprised about, but it serves as a constant reminder that many Kentuckians, particularly those who are disadvantaged, struggle acutely with obesity, which can lead to more serious health issues like heart disease.

“A lot of the solution is going to be early nutritional education,” but even then, losing weight as a state will require a systemic cultural shift, she said.

“We’ve become a fast-food, packaged and prepared food society,” Fleming-Phillips said. “We need to get people back to eating real food.”

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