Report: 38.7% of Arkansans Obese

September 28, 2022


Elizabeth (Izzy) Montgomery, MPA
Policy Analyst

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A new report finds that 38.7% of Arkansas adults are obese, making Arkansas the sixth-worst state in the nation for obesity.

The report by Trust for America’s Health, “State of Obesity 2022: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” released Tuesday, Sept. 27, uses 2021 data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to identify key obesity trends at the state and national levels.

According to this year’s installment of the annual “State of Obesity” report, Arkansas is one of 19 states with obesity rates at or above 35%, an increase of three states from the previous year. In last year’s report, Arkansas’s obesity rate was ranked as the ninth worst in the country at 36.4%, indicating that the state is losing ground in combating the obesity crisis.

This year’s report includes a special section examining the relationship between food insecurity and obesity. This section includes a focus on childhood obesity and nutrition insecurity, the role of food-assistance programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with other federal and state policies and programs aimed at addressing food insecurity. In Arkansas, a governor-appointed Food Desert Working Group was recently established with the goal of eliminating food deserts in the state. The working group includes representatives from charitable food organizations, community healthcare, state government, and commercial grocery sectors.

Nationally, the Biden-Harris Administration is hosting the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health today (Wednesday, Sept. 28) which will include discussion of a national strategy that “identifies steps the government will take and catalyzes the public and private sectors to address the intersections between food, hunger, nutrition, and health.”

One key policy initiative highlighted in the obesity report is the Farm Bill which Congress must pass every five years and is set to expire in 2023. The Farm Bill authorizes key agriculture and food programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As Congress continues work on the upcoming Farm Bill, proposed SNAP work requirements and the continuation of COVID-era benefits and programs are expected to be focuses of debate.

The obesity report includes several recommendations for policies that could be adopted at the federal, state, and local levels to combat obesity-related challenges, highlighted in a news release issued along with the report. These include:

  • Increasing funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and its programs to prevent obesity and related chronic diseases.
  • Making healthy school meals for all students a permanent policy, extending COVID-19 flexibilities that expand nutrition access for students and their families, strengthening school nutrition standards, and increasing students’ opportunities for physical activity.
  • Expanding the CDC’s social determinants of health program to address the upstream, structural drivers of chronic disease.
  • Decreasing food insecurity and improving the nutritional quality of available foods by increasing funding for and participation in nutrition assistance programs.
  • Ending unhealthy food marketing to children by closing tax loopholes and eliminating business cost deductions related to the advertising of unhealthy food and beverages to young people.
  • Imposing excise taxes on sugary drinks and using revenue to support local obesity prevention programs and reduce health disparities.
  • Expanding support for maternal and child health, including breastfeeding.
  • Funding active transportation projects like pedestrian and biking paths in all communities and making local spaces more conductive to physical activity.
  • Expanding access to health care and requiring insurers to cover U.S. Preventive Services Task Force-recommended obesity programs with no cost sharing.

Arkansas Act 1220 of 2003 spearheaded initiatives to address obesity among school-age children and adolescents in the state. Under this legislation, schools are required to collect child height and weight measurements and include a body mass index (BMI) percentile by age for each student. ACHI collects and analyzes this data, publishing the Arkansas BMI state report annually. Results from analyses of 2021-22 school year BMI data indicate that approximately 26% of Arkansas children who attend public schools are classified as obese and 18% are classified as overweight, while 54% of children are classified as having a healthy weight and 2% are classified as underweight.

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