THURSDAY, July 16, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The obesity epidemic in the United States is hitting minorities the hardest, U.S. health officials report.
Here are the hard numbers: Blacks have a 51 percent greater prevalence of obesity than whites, and Hispanics have 21 percent greater obesity prevalence than whites, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obesity rates also vary geographically. Among blacks and whites, the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest. Among Hispanics, obesity rates were highest in the South, Midwest and West, according to the July 17 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.
"There are at least three reasons for these findings," said study author Dr. Liping Pan, a CDC epidemiologist. "The first is individual behavior."
For example, blacks and Hispanics are less likely to engage in physical activity compared with whites, she said.
There are also differences in attitudes and cultural norms, Pan said. "For example, black and Hispanic women are more accepting of their own body size than white women," she said. "They are happy with their weight and less likely to try to lose weight."
The third factor is the limited access to healthy affordable food and safe places to engage in physical activity, Pan said.
Pan noted that all ethnic and racial groups in the United States have a high prevalence of obesity. Programs to fight obesity need to be directed at everyone, not just specific groups, she said.
For the report, Pan's team uses data from the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for 2006 through 2008.
The researchers found that, in 40 states, the prevalence of obesity was 30 percent or more among blacks. In Alabama, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio and Oregon, the obesity rate among blacks was 40 percent or more.
Among blacks, obesity rates ranged from 23 percent to 45.1 percent throughout the United States. For Hispanics the obesity rate ranged from 21 percent to 36.7 percent. In 11 states, the prevalence of obesity was 30 percent or higher among Hispanics, Pan's group found.
Among whites, the prevalence of obesity ranged from 9 percent to 30.2 percent around the country. West Virginia was the only state where the prevalence of obesity among whites was 30 percent or more.
The CDC is currently focusing its efforts on getting people to eat more fruits and vegetables and stay away from high-calorie, high-sugar foods. In addition, the agency is encouraging new mothers to breast-feed their infants, Pan said.
Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said that while there are reasons for the toll obesity is taking on blacks, whites are also dealing with the same obesity problem.
"We should not be surprised to see major disparities in obesity, since the factors that cause it -- eating the wrong kinds of food and too much, and doing too little activity -- are themselves highly disparate in our society," Katz said.
Relative poverty, lower levels of education, neighborhoods that provide limited opportunity for outdoor recreation or to find and choose healthful foods are the underlying problems, Katz said. "There are ethnic disparities in obesity because there are ethnic disparities in the basic standard of living," he said.
"We should, of course, direct resources at this problem where it is most acute, developing community-based interventions to control and prevent obesity where it is most rampant. But we should also recognize that we are all in the same boat," Katz said.
Recently published projections indicate that all adults in the United States will be overweight or obese by 2048, should current trends persist, he noted. "Dedicated efforts to combat obesity-related disparities should take place within a society-wide effort to curtail this threat that is stalking us all," he said.
For more information on obesity, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine .