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Minnesota ranks 32nd in obesity; can you be obese and healthy?

According to a new report issued jointly this week by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, fewer Minnesotans are obese than people living in many other states. Specifically, we’re 32nd on the report’s list.

According to a new report issued jointly this week by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, fewer Minnesotans are obese than people living in many other states.

Specifically, we’re 32nd on the report’s list. Thirty-one states have a higher percentage of obese residents than we do.

But that’s nothing to cheer about. Our overall obesity rate is still unhealthily high: 25.5 percent.

Think about that. One of every four of us is not just overweight, but obese (defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher — and, yes, there are problems with using the BMI to determine who’s overweight and who’s not).

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Mississippi, with an obesity rate of 34 percent, ranks as the most obese state — and for the sixth year in a row. Colorado, with just 19 percent of its residents obese, was last on the list.

The report, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future” [PDF], notes that poor people and racial minorities are at greatest risk of being obese. The report also cites “food deserts” — neighborhoods where it’s difficult or impossible to buy affordable, healthy foods — as a contributing factor.

Can you be obese and healthy?
This kind of report is important because obesity is a risk factor for a variety of chronic and serious health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. Whenever I write that, I hear from readers who say that it’s not the excess fat that puts obese people at risk for those diseases, but other metabolic factors, such as high blood pressure and poor cholesterol readings. Eliminate those factors, say these readers, and you can be obese and healthy.

Perhaps. But eliminating such risk factors when you’re obese isn’t easy, as new research suggests. According to a press release from a recent medical meeting (the data hasn’t been published yet, so there’s no peer-reviewed study to read), Dutch researchers have found that obese people with a normal cardiovascular risk profile (in other words, no high blood pressure and no high cholesterol) are no more likely to develop heart disease over a 7½-year period than metabolically healthy people who are of what’s considered “normal” weight.

But here’s the catch:Only 90 of the 1,325 obese people (aged 28 to 75) who participated in the study were metabolically healthy. “They are a small subset of the total obese population,” said one of the study’s authors in the press release. “And they may still suffer from other obesity-associated diseases like muscle and joint complaints.”

Note: If you want to see how Minnesota ranks on a whole host of health indicators, check out Trust for America’s data on us here.