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31 states register rise in adult obesity

Highest rates found in South

WASHINGTON -- The ever-growing waistlines of Americans expanded a little bit more in 2005 as 31 states registered an increase in obesity among adults.

The findings led some healthcare specialists yesterday to dispute the notion that obesity is simply a personal choice. They say that finding ways to improve fitness needs more attention from the government, employers, and the food and beverage industry.

The organization that tracked obesity on a state-by-state basis, Trust for America's Health, said better information and access are the keys to improving health.

``If we're urging people to walk more, and their streets are not safe, that's an unrealistic expectation," said Jeff Levi, the group's executive director. ``If we're urging people to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and they don't have access to a supermarket or the cost is beyond their capacity, then we're not asking them to take responsibility for something they have control over."

Levi's organization found that nine of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South. Mississippi is at the top, with an estimated 29.5 percent of adults who are considered obese. It's followed by Alabama and West Virginia.

Meanwhile, Colorado remains the leanest state. About 16.9 percent of its adults are considered obese. Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, and Montana recorded adult obesity rates of less than 20 percent.

The only state that experienced a decrease in the percentage of obese adults last year was Nevada.

``Obesity now exceeds 25 percent in 13 states, which should sound some serious alarm bells," Levi said.

States have different challenges to contend with, said Dr. Janet Collins of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

``Populations are not equal in terms of experiencing these health problems," Collins said. ``Low-income populations tend to experience all the health problems we worry about at greater rates."

The group's estimate of obesity rates is based on a three-year average, 2003 to 2005.

The data comes from an annual random sampling of adults via the telephone.

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