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What is Obesity?

The terms "obesity" and "overweight" describe weight ranges greater than what is generally considered to be healthy for a given height. By definition, an overweight person has extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat, and/or water. Someone who is obese has a high amount of extra body fat.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is the standard used to diagnose overweight and obesity in adults. BMI measures body fat based on height and weight. Adults with BMI greater than 30 are considered obese, while those with BMI measures greater than 25 are classified as overweight.

Why is obesity an important issue in rural communities?

Obesity causes more needless deaths in this country than any other risk factor. Obesity among adults and children in the United States has risen dramatically over the past 30 years. More than a third of U.S. adults and nearly one in five children and adolescents are obese. Rates of obesity are higher for certain racial and ethnic groups—approximately half of African Americans and 40 percent of Hispanics are obese.

In rural America, rates of obesity are even higher. The rural south has the highest rates of overweight in the U.S. One study using 2003 data showed that rural children and youth aged 10-17 years were more likely to be obese than their urban counterparts (14% urban, versus 17% rural).

Another study using 2005-2008 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) reported that 40% of rural adults were obese, compared to 33% of urban adults. In 2007, the National Survey of Children’s Health found a similar result for children aged 10-17, with 35% of children in rural areas and only 30% of children in rural areas being considered overweight or obese.