Arkansas's Obesity Rate Edges Down, State Rank Falls to 7th As Other States' Rates Climb

Sep 20, 2018

Arkansas’s health experts are offering a mixed reaction to a new report that finds our state making small progress in its fight against obesity.

Tonya Johnson, director of nutritional services at UAMS, welcomes the decline from 35.7 to 35.0 percent for Arkansas’s obesity rate as indicated by the State of Obesity report released earlier this month, but she said that far more needs to be done to move the rate down faster.

“We are still not making drastic changes in our overall behaviors,” she said.

Tonya Johnson, director of nutrition services at UAMS, stressed the need for more action on childhood obesity and more opportunities for physical activity for all ages to help get Arkansas's obesity rate under control.
Credit Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Johnson said Arkansas would be well-served by promoting breast feeding, working to prevent and reduce childhood obesity and increasing the opportunities for physical activity for Arkansans of all ages, especially those who are overweight.

“If we could become a walkable state, a bike-friendly state, and have more resources like that to get people moving, that’s really what’s going to make the change,” she said.

According to the report, Arkansas now ranks seventh for obesity.  Last year, it tied with Alabama for third.

The report defines obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher and uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come up with the state rankings.

As always, Colorado came in last for obesity, and retained its title as the healthiest state.  Health experts there said the state may have an advantage in that people who are interesting in hiking, biking and skiing may opt to move to or stay in Colorado. But officials with Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment said they remain deeply concerned about obesity rates, which have risen everywhere, including Colorado.

“Even though we seem like we’re lower than everybody else, we’re still higher compared to us,” said Dr. Tista Ghosh, a preventative medicine physician in Denver.

Colorado’s obesity rates stood at 6.9 percent in 1990 and rose steadily to its present national-low rate of 22.6 percent.

As recently as 2014, the State of Obesity report gave Arkansas the title of the most obese state until it was overtaken by other states experiencing even higher acceleration in their obesity rates. Four of the six states with higher obesity rates than Arkansas this year are also in the South.

“I think that the real issue is not how states are doing relative to each other but just how high these rates are,” said John Auerbach, president and CEO of the Trust for America’s Health, which released the report in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“There’s serious health consequences, even shortening of life, that will be resulting,” he added.

Berryville resident Delinda Richardson, who was successful at losing 100 pounds, said even the very modest decline in Arkansas's obesity rate may help people to understand that weight loss is possible.

"One thing I have learned over the years is that it is OK to ask for help," she said.

Encouraging people to reach out to weight loss organizations and find support from others on the journey towards weight loss is a best-possible outcome of this reporting, she said.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you!