Here’s a Little Good News About Obesity in America

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Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

For the last couple years, there have been some signs that the obesity trend lines in the U.S. are stabilizing — that, whatever else is going on, the problem isn’t getting significantly worse.

A new annual report just published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health, The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, offers some support for that hypothesis: The data it presents suggest that things are, in fact leveling off — and actually getting better in a few places — but that obesity is still very much a public-health crisis in the U.S.

First, the good news, from the press release: “The 13th annual edition of this report finds that, between 2014 and 2015, adult obesity rates decreased in four states (Minnesota, Montana, New York, and Ohio), increased in two states (Kansas and Kentucky) and remained stable in the rest. Aside from a decline in Washington, D.C. in 2010, this marks the first time in the past decade that any states have experienced decreases. Louisiana has the highest adult rate at 36.2 percent, while Colorado has the lowest at 20.2 percent. ” [emphasis in the original]

Not surprisingly, some of those stable states are remaining stable at really high levels of obesity, and there’s a huge gap between the healthiest and least healthy ones (a gap that is, of course, influenced by factors like poverty):

Photo: The State of Obesity

No, the way the government measures who is obese and who isn’t isn’t perfect, and yes, people have unrealistic views of the human body — people who appear overweight can actually be quite healthy.

But: There’s no way to explain away these sorts of statistics. Obsity really is a major public-health crisis, and it’s hard to overstate the toll it will take in the long run. That’s a lot of human suffering, a lot of wasted potential, a lot of financial strain on the nation’s health systems — and keep in mind that child obesity rates are sky-high in many states as well.

So while it’s good that things aren’t getting worse in most of the country, that doesn’t change the grim overall storyline.