Michigan ranks 35th in adult obesity, with 4 counties below the US average

Obesity rates have been on the rise in Michigan and throughout the nation dating back at least 30 years.

As of 2020, Michigan ranked 35th based on its percentage of adults with a body mass index of 30 or higher, based on reported height and weight, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Michigan’s obesity rate of 35.2% surpassed the national average of 32.2%.

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded communities of the importance of healthy lifestyle choices including diet, exercise and sufficient sleep schedules. Obesity and diabetes were among the most common factors contributing to severe illness from COVID-19.

Dr. Shelley Schmidt, a critical care physician for Spectrum Health, said COVID patients who have died in their 20s, 30s and 40s have “by and large” been significantly overweight.

“If we can take a lesson away from this, it would be nice to see a change in the way we view diet and exercise in this country,” Schmidt said.

Obesity and high body fat are known to correlate with diseases and health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, osteoarthritis, stroke and certain cancers.

The state and county-level obesity comparisons are based on BMI data collected through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Health officials have pointed out flaws in relying strictly on BMI to evaluate a person’s health, like the metric’s inability to decipher between body fat and muscle mass.

Related: Is BMI still valuable in assessing health risks today?

Still, they consider the metric a good starting point when evaluating an individual’s lifestyle and potential health risk factors, and even to evaluate a given community.

“BMI is a useful tool in most people,” said Jim Pivarnik, a professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University. “It’s not perfect, but is it useful? Yes. You’re going to be more right than wrong in judging someone’s obesity with BMI than nothing. Now if you can measure percent fat is that better? Absolutely.”

In Michigan, only four counties reported adult obesity rates that were at or below the national average in 2019, according to CDC data released last year. They include Washtenaw (29.4%), Oakland (30.7%), Leelanau (31.8%) and Ottawa (31.9%).

That means 79 counties were above that threshold, including 33 with a rate of 38% or greater. Among the most obese counties were Saginaw (41.7%), Clare (41.6%), Montcalm (40.8%), Hillsdale (40.8%), Isabella (40.7%), Gratiot (40.6%) and Baraga (40.5%).

Below is a map of Michigan’s 83 counties based on estimated adult obesity rates. Hover over a county to see its rate from the latest CDC data.

Can’t see the map? Click here.

Michigan has exceeded the national average for at least 30 consecutive years, going back to 1990. During that timespan, Michigan’s obesity rate has climbed steadily from 14.1% in 1990, to 22.4% in 2000, to 31.7% in 2010.

Below is a US map of adult obesity rates by state, based on 2020 data from the CDC. Hover over each state to see its adult obesity rate and state ranking.

Can’t see the map? Click here.

If you have any COVID-19 questions that you’d like answered, please submit them to covidquestions@mlive.com to be considered for future MLive reporting.

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