TUPELO • Mississippi has more company at the top end of the scale.
Now there are seven states where obese adults make up 35 percent or more of the population.
Mississippi weighed in with 37.3 percent of adults with a body mass index of 30 or higher – which translates to about 30 pounds of excess weight. But West Virginia has the top spot with 38.1 percent of adults qualifying as obese.
“It’s definitely not slowing down,” said Tupelo bariatric surgeon Dr. Will Cauthen.
Only two states – Colorado and Hawaii – and the district of Columbia had obesity rates of less than 25 percent.
The Centers for Disease Control report, which was updated last week, is based on self-reported height and weight through phone surveys in 2017.
“These numbers are probably underestimated,” because people tend to overestimate height and underestimate weight, said John Hall, director of the Mississippi Center for Obesity Research and a physiology professor at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine.
It’s not just that people are a little overweight. More and more adults are 100 pounds or more over healthy weight ranges.
“The trends for severe obesity are even more alarming,” Hall said. “Severe obesity is increasing equally rapidly.”
Cauthen is concerned people don’t have an accurate understanding of the extra weight or the risk it carries.
“Many of them don’t consider themselves obese,” Cauthen said. “It’s become common place.”
Obesity puts people at risk for heart disease, strokes, diabetes, certain cancers and arthritis. It puts an incredible burden on individuals, families and the medical system as a whole.
“We’re getting to the point that it’s unsustainable,” Cauthen said.
There have been gains in better treating some conditions related to obesity.
“We have a better idea of how to treat obesity-related hypertension,” Hall said.
But researchers are still wrestling with the big question about why it is so hard to lose weight and keep it off.
“We’re learning a lot about how the brain counteracts weight loss,” Hall said.
Bariatric surgery, particularly Roux-en-Y, and vertical gastric sleeve procedures have been very effective at putting diabetes and hypertension into remission for morbidly obese patients.
Insurance coverage is improving, in Mississippi, but there are key pieces missing. Medicaid doesn’t cover the procedure. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi doesn’t cover the procedure in its commercially available product, although it does administer plans for state and federal employees that does include the surgery.
“We have the second largest population of obese adults, but citizens here don’t have access to life-changing operations,” Cauthen said. “It’s unfortunate.”