The number of adult North Carolinians considered obese has taken an upward turn after remaining relatively unchanged the past seven years.
Of the states 7.92 million adults, about 31.8 percent, or 2.52 million, are considered obese, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions behavioral risk factor surveillance system for 2017.
It has been at 30 percent most of this decade.
North Carolina reached its highest ranking to date among the states at 16th. It is the ninth-largest state overall with 10.25 million residents.
The data was released Thursday as part of the 14th annual State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"It's clear that the progress we've made in fighting obesity is fragile and that we're at a critical juncture where continuation of the policies that show promise and increased support and resources could truly help bend the rising tide of obesity rates," John Auerbach, president and chief executive of Trust for Americas health, said in a statement.
"We're far from out of the woods when it comes to obesity. But we have many reasons to be optimistic thanks to parents, educators, business owners, health officials and other local leaders.
Our nation's policymakers must follow their example to build a culture of health.
Obesity is defined as an excessively high amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass. Overweight refers to increased body weight in relation to height, which is then compared to a standard of acceptable weight.
Adults with a body mass index of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while individuals at 30 or more are considered obese and those at 40 or higher are considered severely obese.
The previous highest N.C. ranking was 25th in 2013 at a 29.4 percent obesity rate.
By comparison, the states obesity level was at 12.3 percent and ranked ninth lowest nationally in 1990.
The data shows the obesity issue is more among adults than children.
Childhood obesity rates in North Carolina have stabilized over the past decade, and decreased among low-income preschoolers between 2011 and 2014.
For high school students in the state, the obesity rate is 16.4 percent, which ranks at the seventh-highest rate.
North Carolina has plenty of company when it comes to adult obesity.
Rates exceeded 35 percent in five states, 30 percent in 25 states and 25 percent in 46 states.
Colorado had the lowest adult obesity rate at 22.3 percent and West Virginia had the highest at 37.7 percent. Nine of the 11 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South.
By contrast, as recently as 2000, no state had an obesity rate above 25 percent.
North Carolina's adult obesity rate is 40.2 percent for blacks, 31.2 percent for Hispanics and 28.1 percent for whites. It was 29.8 percent for women and 29.6 percent for men.
Obesity rates are about 30 percent higher among adults without a college education and with incomes below $15,000 compared with other adults.
While there are some encouraging signs on the national front, several statistics about the obesity rates in North Carolina are concerning, said Dr. Jamy Ard, director of the weight management center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Ard cited foremost that North Carolina ranked higher among the states.
I am especially concerned that we may experience another bump in obesity rates over the next several years because teens are reaching their early adult years with a high prevalence of obesity, Ard said. This increases the probability that they will struggle with obesity later in life.
Our best chance at avoiding this depends on improving access and insurance coverage for effective treatments, providing community support and infrastructure for health lifestyles, and being serious about prevention of excessive weight gain very early in life.
The N.C. Hospital Association said obesity is a contributing factor for many significant and costly health issues plaguing our state.
Addressing this type of systemic problem does not happen overnight, and requires ongoing, coordinated effort. Hospitals and health system across the state are working with community partners to improve wellness not only through treatment, but also through education and support of healthier lifestyles.
The association cited programs such as community gardens, farmers markets and walking trails, and taking an active role in addressing social determinants of health.
The latest ranking shows clearly that there is more work to be done, and we will continue to be part of the solution, the association said.
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