Report: Tennessee now has the second-worst diabetes of any state

Obesity blamed for state's high diabetes rate

A series of fast food restaurants are seen near Saco, Maine. According to a report released Sept. 16, about one-third of U.S. children and teens eat pizza or other fast food every day.

If there's a morsel of good news in a new report on obesity in the U.S., it's that we're not getting any fatter.

But there is still plenty of bad news - more than 30 percent of all Americans are overweight, and Southerners are heftier than residents of any other region.

The number of Tennesseans who are overweight actually declined slightly, from 33.7 percent in 2013 to 31.2 percent in 2014. The Volunteer State had the 14th worst rate in the U.S.

But trouble appears to be looming: 20.5 percent of Tennessee children aged 10-17 are overweight, the fifth worst rate in the nation.

And 16.9 percent of the state's high school students are obese, the fourth worst rate nationally, according to the report released Monday by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Those extra pounds translate into health problems. Thirteen percent of Tennesseans, nearly 595,000, suffer from diabetes. That's the second-worst level of any state, according to the report.

"[Obesity] leads, over time, to different chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes," said John Bilderback, obesity expert with the Hamilton County Health Department. "When I was a child, you never heard of children being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes - that was very rare; older seniors would be diagnosed with that. And now we're seeing it diagnosed in children as young as 9."

The number of Volunteer State residents with high blood pressure is not much better. The report says nearly 1.3 million Tennesseans suffer from hypertension, the sixth-worst rate in the U.S.

What's behind the huge increase in diabetes in only 25 years?

"You're looking at the individual choices that people make; you're looking at the amount of physical activity we get as individuals and as a society," Bilderback said. "The workplace and work has changed over those decades. Our jobs tended to require a lot more physical activity, and we had more physical activity in our everyday lives."

The news was not all bleak.

Tennessee school officials said the obesity rate declined between 2007-08 and 2012-13 by 6.3 percent for children in kindergarten and grades 2, 4, 6, 8 and in high school.

And Georgia officials said that the number of overweight 2-to-4-year-olds from low-income families declined by more than 10 percent between 2008 and 2011.

But overall, however, there was not a lot of progress.

Nationally, there are now three states - Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi - where 35 percent of the population is obese, according to the report.

Thirty percent of all U.S. adults and 17 percent of children are overweight.

The obesity report ranked Georgia 19th, with 30.5 percent of its adults overweight, while Alabama was fifth, with an adult obesity rate of 33.5 percent.

Colorado reported the lowest obesity rate, at 21.3 percent, followed by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts and California.

To view the Trust for America's Health report, go to

Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at 423-757-6673 or