WASHINGTON -- We're getting fatter. In 1995, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. Now, all but one does.
An annual obesity report by two public health groups looked for the first time at state-by-state statistics over the past two decades. The state that has the lowest obesity rate now -- Colorado, with 19.8 percent of adults considered obese -- would have had the highest rate in 1995.
"When you look at it year by year, the changes are incremental," says Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, which writes the report with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "When you look at it by a generation you see how we got into this problem."
The study, based on 2010 data, says a dozen states top 30 percent obesity, most of them in the South. Mississippi topped the list for the seventh year in a row, with Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana close behind. Just five years ago, Mississippi was the only state above 30 percent.
No state decreased its level of obesity, which is defined as a body mass index -- based on a person's weight and height -- of 30 or higher. A person who is 5 feet 5 inches and weighs 150 pounds would have a body mass index of 25, for example, but at 180 pounds the BMI would be 30. Although body mass index isn't the best indicator for someone with a lot of muscle, such as an athlete, it is considered the best way to measure the general population.
There was a bit of good news in the report: The number of states that reported increases in their obesity rates was down, from 28 last year to 16.
"We're leveling off to some degree at an unacceptably high level," Levi said.