Sep 20, 2021 - COVID

Iowa's obesity rate rose during the pandemic

Prevalence of self-reported obesity
Data: CDC; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

The number of states where adults with obesity make up at least 35% of the population significantly jumped from two years ago, according to new CDC data. And Iowa is among the latest to join that list.

  • The state's obese population rose from 34% in 2019 to 36.5% in 2020.
  • Just 10 years ago, Iowa's obesity rate was at 29%.

Why it matters: Obesity is linked to a number of health complications, ranging from heart disease to increased risk of COVID-19 hospitalization.

  • A 2016 report from Wellmark showed obesity contributes to the state's most costly conditions.

What's happening: The pandemic disrupted our routines and even the most basic tasks that encouraged physical activity, like walking around the office, were halted, said Jami Haberl, executive director of the nonprofit, the Healthiest State Initiative.

  • Mental health also suffered and anxiety and stress contribute to weight gain, Haberl said.

Yes, but: Even prior to COVID-19, Iowa struggled with its obesity rates, Haberl said.

  • It's a complicated medical condition that's influenced by income, education, health care access and opportunities for physical activity.

Especially in Iowa, zip codes matter. Despite being known as a food provider, food deserts are prevalent and both urban and rural families may struggle to afford or find nutritional foods.

  • "If you need anything, it's Casey's — that's probably the case for a lot of small communities," Haberl said.

Of note: Black men suffered from the highest obesity rates in Iowa last year, at 45% among African American adults.

The bottom line: Nonprofits like Haberl's are working with private and public entities to try to bridge gaps in health inequity. The group's Double Up Food Bucks program allows people who receive food stamps to get free fruits and vegetables, including at farmers' markets.


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