LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas is the seventh most obese state in the nation, according to a national report released Tuesday.

The state ranked ninth last year in the annual report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The study said the state’s obesity rate of 30.9 percent is .3 percentage points above last year, and that Arkansas is one of a dozen states where nearly 1 in 3 adults is obese.

Mississippi has the highest adult obesity rate at 34.9 percent, while Colorado has the lowest rate at 20.7 percent. Twenty-six of the 30 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest.

More than two-thirds of adults in the United States, 68 percent, are either overweight or obese, according to the report. Among children ages 2-19, 16.9 percent are obese and 31.7 percent are overweight or obese.

A person with a body mass index of 30 or higher is considered obese. The report’s rankings are based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michelle Justus, director of disease prevention health promotion at the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said the study shows that the state has a lot of work to do to address the obesity problem.

"We do know that obesity is a critical problem in our state and this report … does tell us that we have more work to do," Justus said.

The state has made strides in promoting better nutrition in schools, "but an area we can improve upon is increasing physical activity within schools," she said.

Justus said grant programs are available for elementary schools and middle schools that double the amount of physical activity by students.

Also, the state is promoting more community-based programs to improve physical activity among children and adults, such as Growing Healthy Communities, which encourages local communities to reduce obesity by increasing physical activity, increasing access to health foods and implementing other changes in an effort to support healthy living. Eighteen communities across the state are currently participating in that program.

In Northwest Arkansas, a program called "Energize Northwest Arkansas" focuses on "all different aspects of obesity, what the economic impact is, and all different aspects, not just health."

Justus said that if Arkansas can reduce its overall obesity rate by 5 percentage points, the state could save about $6 billion in medical costs.


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