The 5 Fattest States In America

Most of the country’s obese states are in the South–but not all.

There’s a new top state in the obesity stakes, and the dubious honor goes to Mississippi. It now has the highest rate of obesity in the nation (35.4%), replacing West Virginia (34.4%), which had been top state from 2010 to 2012.


Montana has the lowest obesity rate, followed by Colorado and Nevada.

Gallup’s 2013 figures are based on a survey of self-reported height and weight. People are “obese” when their Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeds 30. BMI is a ratio of a person’s height to weight that, while a somewhat flawed statistic, is still is one of the most accurate predictors of later disease and mortality. According to that BMI-based definition, the national rate of obesity has increased steadily since 2008.

You can see all the states in Gallup’s obesity map here. There are marked regional differences. The more obese states tend to come from the South and Midwest. The top 10 includes seven from the South, including Louisiana, Arkansas, and South Carolina. The less obese states tend to be from the West and North West. The bottom 10 includes Massachusetts, Nevada, and California.

According to Gallup, the states with the highest levels of obesity also have higher rates of obesity-related disease. For example, the 10 most obese states have a high-blood pressure rate of 35.8%, compared to 26.4% for the lowest 10. More obese states also have lower levels of exercise, and less healthy eating habits, relatively speaking.

Cutting obesity levels improves people’s health, but also reduces pressure on the overall health care system. On average, an obese person costs $1,300 more person year for health care than someone who is not obese. Getting a few more people below 30 BMI could produce some serious savings.

This animated map shows the rise of obesity across America, using CDC numbers, which differ slightly from Gallup’s.

The Centers for Disease Control obesity numbers–which are also based on a survey–have slightly different results. In 2012, the CDC declared Louisiana to be most obese state, and Colorado the least. Again, there were big regional differences. The South and Midwest had an average rate of 29.45%, compared to 25.2% for the West and Northeast.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.