America’s Most Obese States Tend to Have One Thing in Common

People living in high-poverty areas have limited access to healthy food and lack the funds to buy it.

(Photo: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images)

May 28, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Restaurant chains such as Taco Bell and Pizza Hut made headlines this week with the news that they’re axing artificial ingredients from their recipes. But given our expanding waistlines, it seems like Americans don’t need a healthier (but still packed with calories) Gordita Supreme or Three Cheese Stuffed Crust pizza—we need more fruits and vegetables.

Indeed, the results of the annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index poll reveal that in 2014 the nation’s obesity rate was nearly 28 percent, up from 27 percent in 2013.

As in years past, Gallup broke the data down according to the most and least obese states. If you’re wondering why some places are fatter than others, look no further than data on poverty from the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, the poverty rate is 15.4 percent, but nine of the 10 most obese states have rates above that. When you’re living in a low-income community, junk food—not a grocery store full of kale and quinoa—is usually what’s nearby.

So, Why Should You Care? Obesity is a major contributor to a slew of serious health ailments, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The expense of treating obesity-related problems could also end up being a strain on state and national budgets. With poverty rates going up, Americans’ ability to afford fruits and veggies could be limited. And, as those usually aren’t available at the local corner store, folks living in impoverished communities are being set up for soaring disease rates and health care costs.

Here are the 10 states that are the most and least obese, according to the poll results:

(Charts: Gallup)

Nine out of the 10 most obese states have poverty rates above the national average of 15.4 percent. For the second straight year, Mississippi is the fattest state in the nation—35.2 percent of residents are classified as obese—and its 22.7 percent poverty rate is also the highest. Similarly, West Virginia and Louisiana, which have 34.3 and 33.2 percent obesity rates, respectively, are also afflicted with high poverty rates. A full 18.5 percent of West Virginians and 19.8 percent of Louisiana residents live in poverty.

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Overall, people living in the nation’s least obese states tend to be wealthier. In Hawaii, 19 percent of residents are obese, and only 10.8 percent of folks live in poverty. And in Colorado, the second-slimmest state with 20.3 percent people classified as obese, 13 percent of residents live in poverty.

The correlation isn’t always clear-cut, however. The outlier in the most obese states is Iowa. Its poverty rate of 12.7 percent is below the national average. Meanwhile, California’s obesity rate is relatively low when compared with Mississippi’s, but its 16.8 percent poverty rate is above the national average. Still, it seems that if we truly want to address America’s obesity crisis, ensuring that people aren’t living in food deserts—and that they actually have money to buy nutritious food—is the solution.

Want to see how your state stacks up? Check out the map below.

(Map: Gallup)