By Heather Martino and John Davisson
Maryland is by no means immune to America's obesity epidemic—in fact, the state seems to be on the wrong side of an alarming national trend.
According to data from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, the prevalence of obesity climbed faster in Maryland between 2001 and 2011 than it did nationwide.
In 2001, 25.4 percent of men and 28.6 percent of women were reportedly obese in Maryland—slightly lower than the national averages at the time. But by 2011, Maryland had narrowly surpassed the U.S. figures, with 33.9 percent of men and 36.9 percent of women recorded as obese (compared to 33.8 percent and 36.1 percent nationwide).
That means obesity ticked up an unsettling 8.5 percentage points among Maryland men (versus 7.7 nationally) and 8.3 points among Maryland women (versus 7.4 nationally).
Where were those increases most apparent? Largely in the state's more rural counties, as seen in the map above. Talbot County showed the sharpest rise in male obesity prevalence over the same period (12.4 percentage points), followed by Caroline County (11.8), Carroll County (11.6), Dorchester County (11.0), and Howard County (11.0).
Among women, the biggest jumps were found in Wicomico County (12.5 percentage points), Somerset County (12.0), Cecil County (11.2), Washington County (10.9), Allegany County (10.5), and Prince George's County (10.4).
The smallest rises among men were found in Prince George's County (8.1 percentage points), Frederick County (8.2), and Charles County (8.5). Among women, it was Anne Arundel County (5.5), Calvert County (8.6), and Queen Anne's County (8.7) that saw the slowest growth.
The county figures on the map were obtained from a recent study from the University of Washington, which found that nationwide women are more obese than their male counterparts—a trend that holds up in Maryland.
According to the CDC, obesity affects more than one-third of adults, or 35.7 percent of the population in the United States. Obesity is calculated by measuring a person’s height and weight, and deriving at a ratio called the body mass index, or BMI. This number often correlates to an individual’s amount of body fat, and is used to ascertain whether a person is considered underweight, a normal weight, overweight or obese.
Obese individuals have a 50-100% increased risk of premature death, and it’s estimated that obesity may be the cause of 300,000 deaths per year according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Interestingly, Americans claim to be exercising more during the same time period that obesity climbed. “Around the country, you can see huge increases in the percentage of people becoming physically active, which research tells us is certain to have health benefits,” said IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray in a press release. Murray added that “If communities in the US can replicate this success and tackle the ongoing obesity impact, it will see more substantial health gains.”
The good news is that there may be silver lining to America’s fat epidemic. While we’re still getting fatter, studies have found that it’s happening at a slower rate than in past years. And if this rate continues to drop, Maryland might soon be reporting slimmer, healthier residents.