Score a big one for Massachusetts. The state ranks three in the nation for lowest obesity rate—right behind fitness-obsessed Colorado and perfect-surfing-weather-all-year-round Hawaii, according to 2011 data issued Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In previous years, the state has ranked lower compared to other states like Connecticut.
The state’s actual obesity rate for 2011—22.7 percent—is nearly one percent lower than in 2010 and nearly one percent higher than in 2009, but that may not be indicative of any real changes in obesity rates. The CDC tweaked the survey’s methodology this year to get a more accurate reading of the percentage of Americans who are overweight by 10 or 20 pounds or who are more severely overweight or obese.
For example, the researchers now have the ability to contact homes where residents have only cellphones and no landline to ask them survey questions about their weight and overall state of health. There’s clearly, though, some under-reporting since the CDC states that the national obesity rate hovers at nearly 36 percent—based on body mass index measurements reported by doctors—yet the national average for obesity in the survey data ( which is based on individuals reporting their weight status) was about 27 percent.
Mississippi and Louisiana --which had the highest reported obesity rates of 34.9 percent and 33.4 percent respectively—still didn’t match the national obesity rate, which is based on a survey of medical records. Thus, Massachusetts may fare better than nearly every other state, but its real obesity rate may be higher than what’s reported in the most recent survey.
The possible under-reporting of obesity among survey respondents isn’t too surprising. A 2010 study found that today’s overweight Americans are less likely to classify themselves as having a weight problem compared to their counterparts from 20 years ago. That could be due to fact that being heavy is the new norm: With only one-third of Americans at a healthy body weight, it’s hard to think we’re “abnormally” heavy if all of our friends are as well.
To no surprise, patients who are told by their doctors that they need to lose excess pounds are more likely to correctly identify themselves as overweight or obese, according to research published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine. They’re also more likely to attempt weight loss through diet and exercise. Unfortunately, the researchers also found that more than half of those who were overweight—defined as having a body mass index of 25 or greater—and about one-third of those who were obese—with a BMI of 30 or greater—said they never discussed their weight with their doctors.