More Oklahomans Are Obese — And More Susceptible to COVID Complications

Sep 17, 2020

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Oklahoma’s adult obesity rate is up two percentage points from last year.

According to the latest edition of the State of Obesity report by Trust for America’s Health, 36.8% of Oklahoma adults in 2019 had obesity, the fourth-highest rate in the nation.

TFAH President and CEO John Auerbach said that’s troubling because obesity makes people more likely to get seriously sick or die from the coronavirus. At the same time, he expects Oklahoma’s food insecurity rate to increase because of the pandemic’s economic fallout.

Auerbach said people who are just trying to get by are more likely to buy the cheapest food, which is often the unhealthiest.

"So, we may see an increase in the number of people who are obese as a result of the consequences of COVID at the same time that people are placed at greater risk of a serious illness or death from COVID as a result of obesity," Auerbach said.

The obesity rate is even higher among Black Oklahomans at 41.7%. Auerbach said states can play a role in reducing obesity rates and fixing racial disparities in them by spending money to give equitable access to health care, nutritious food and outdoor activities.

So, we think choice is important, but we also thing working to make it easier for people to make it possible for them to actually have a realistic choice to take the healthier option needs to go along with that," Auerbach said.

That spending can range from supplementing federal nutrition benefits to investing in parks and usable outdoor space in low-income areas.

Mississippi leads the nation with 40.8% of adults having obesity. West Virginia is second with 39.7%, and Kentucky is third with 36.5%. Colorado and Washington, D.C., are tied for the lowest obesity rate, 23.8%.

The national obesity rate is 42.4%, the highest ever recorded. The national rate is reported from a clinical dataset, while state rates come from self-reported data.