At least 20 percent of adults are obese in every US state, CDC maps show

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There is no state in the U.S. where less than 20 percent of the adults are obese, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

In four particular states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia — over 35 percent of surveyed adults were obese, the CDC said in a set of newly released maps.

The maps show the prevalence of obesity among U.S. adults remains relatively high, despite nationwide efforts in recent years to boost families' access to healthier foods and encourage exercise, Dr. Liping Pan, an epidemiologist in CDC's Obesity Prevention and Control program, told Mashable.

Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among U.S. Adults (2015)

Image: CDC/Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

"It's still a public health problem," Dr. Pan said by phone.

Obesity can lead to health problems such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, according to CDC.

What counts as 'obese'?

The CDC defines obesity as having a body mass index of 30 or higher.

Your BMI is your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in meters. A high BMI can indicate a high level of body fat, but it's not a perfect science.

Critics of the BMI approach, including some doctors and researchers, note that the calculation can't distinguish between fat and muscle. Your enormous biceps and rock-hard abs, for instance, could pad your BMI measurement. And stick-thin adults may still have unhealthy levels of fat that don't register on the scale.

The agency based its adult obesity maps on self-reported data collected in hundreds of thousands of telephone interviews with U.S. adults. Survey respondents provided their height and weight, which the CDC used to calculate their individual BMI.

Dr. Pan said that, because the height and weight data was self-reported and not independently verified, the prevalence of adult obesity is probably higher than the CDC estimated.

"Women tend to under-report their weight, and some men over-report their height," she said. Fudging those facts could skew a person's BMI downward.

Demographic divide

The CDC's results on adult obesity tended to vary along racial lines.

About 38.1 percent of non-Hispanic black adults are considered obese, according to CDC data from 2013-2015. Nearly 32 percent of Hispanics and 27.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites are considered obese.

Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among Non-Hispanic Black Adults (2013-2015)

Image: CDC/BEHAVIORAL RISK FACTOR SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM

Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among Hispanic Adults (2013-2015)

Image: CDC/BEHAVIORAL RISK FACTOR SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM

Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among Non-Hispanic White Adults (2013-2015)

Image: CDC/Behavioral risk factor surveillance system

Dr. Pan said a wide range of factors could account for the demographic differences, such as socioeconomic status, cultural norms and access to grocery stores. "It's a complex issue," she said.

She noted that survey sample sizes for Asians and other ethnic groups were too small, so only three groups — Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites — were included in the maps.

Pamela Bryant, a health communications specialist at CDC in Atlanta, said the goal of the maps is to "empower" individuals and policymakers to take steps to prevent obesity, such as by improving access to healthier, fresher foods and recreational options in neighborhoods, schools and offices.

"We want to see our society being a place where people are moving more and eating better," she told Mashable. "We want that to become a societal norm."

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