ILLINOIS — Obesity, which federal health officials say increases the risk of a severe COVID-19 coronavirus illness, remains high across the country, with 12 states now reporting that 35 percent of adults say they are obese, according to a new report.
The Centers for Disease Control uses body mass index, or BMI to calculate obesity. If the BMI — that is a person’s body fat relative to height and weight — is 30.0 or higher, that person is considered obese.
In Illinois, 31.6 percent of adults reported they were obese in 2019, according to the new report released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Our state is not among 12 states where at least 35 percent of adults say they’re obese. The states are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
In 2018, nine states reported obesity rates above 35 percent.
The 2019 CDC obesity report, based on self-reporting, showed that all states had obesity rates of 20 percent or higher among adults. The lowest obesity prevalence rates were in Colorado and the District of Columbia.
Geographically, the most obese states are located in the Midwest (33.9 percent) and the South (33.3 percent), compared with the Northeast (29 percent) and the West (27.4 percent).
The report noted lower levels of obesity among college graduates and younger adults.
Self-reported obesity rates were 25 percent among college graduates, compared with 32.8 percent among adults with some college, 34.3 percent among high school graduates and 34.3 percent among those without a high school degree or equivalent.
Adults ages 45 to 54 were almost twice as likely (37.6 percent) to struggle with obesity as those 18 to 24 (18.9 percent).
The report also showed obesity disproportionately affects some racial and ethnic groups:
- Black adults had the highest prevalence of self-reported obesity at nearly 40 percent, followed by Hispanic adults (nearly 34 percent) and white adults (30 percent).
- Six states had an obesity prevalence of 35 percent or higher among white adults.
- Fifteen states had an obesity prevalence of 35 percent or higher among Hispanic adults.
- Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia had an obesity prevalence of 35 percent or higher among Black adults.
Regardless of whether they are obese, Black and Hispanic adults already are at greater risk for coronavirus illness due to systemic issues, the CDC said.
“Racial and ethnic minority groups have historically not had fair opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health, and these inequities have increased the risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 for some groups,” the agency said. “Many of these same factors are contributing to the higher level of obesity in some racial and ethnic minority groups.”
Obesity and coronavirus illness rates among these populations are tied to a number of factors, including access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages, along with safe, convenient places for physical activity.
The CDC said the findings of the report underscore the need to sort out systemic issues that create barriers to good health, both at the system and policy levels. Such fundamental change will take time; but in the meantime, the agency recommended that all people, not just those who are obese or at risk for or a serious coronavirus illness, should:
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, paying close attention to caloric intake.
- Remain active, which not only makes you feel and sleep better and reduces anxiety but can also assist in weight loss.
- Manage stress, which the CDC said has worsened during the pandemic.
The CDC report doesn’t take into account the effect of the coronavirus pandemic has had on obesity.
But medical experts outside the federal health agency say that while no one has yet assessed how the coronavirus has affected Americans’ waistlines, Dr John Morton, the head of bariatric surgery at Yale New Haven Health System, says he’s seen patients who have gained between 5 and 30 pounds.
“Anecdotally, we are definitely seeing weight gain,” Morton said in a story on Yale Medicine. “You can put on 30 pounds really quickly — you can do it in three months.”