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Study: Every North Dakota county more obese than last decade

Stark County among worst performing in obesity study highlighting that each of North Dakota's 53 counties have become fatter.

In North Dakota, a 2022 study found that every one of the state’s 53 counties had become more obese over the 10-year period. The state emerged in the bottom five states, seeing the largest increase over the past 10 years at 6%.
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DICKINSON, N.D. — A recent study shows that every one of North Dakota’s 53 counties had become more obese over the previous 10-year period.

The state emerged in the bottom five states that saw the largest increase in obesity over a decade at 6%. Analysis of data available by County Health Rankings compared each county’s rate of obesity in 2012 to the newly released figures in 2022.

Renville County, in the northwestern part of the state, showed a substantial 13% increase in obesity levels. The counties that witnessed the largest increases in obesity over the last decade in North Dakota included Stark, Barnes, Hettinger, LaMoure and Renville counties. The five best performing counties were Grant, Logan, Bottineau, McHenry and Steele counties — although each still gained in obesity percentage.

In a county-by-county review at the national level, four out of the five counties who have become the most obese over the past decade were all in South Dakota. The only exception being one county in Alaska.

The study mirrored the results of a separate, comprehensive global study from the University of Washington, and published in The Lancet Medical Journal. That study found that, over the last 30 years, a “startling” increase in rates of obesity worldwide showed no significant decline in any country.


The study was conducted by a team of international researchers, led by professor Emmanuela Gakidou of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The study’s findings highlighted that across the globe, “obesity is becoming an increasing concern.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is defined as a disorder involving excessive body fat that increases the risk of health problems. Obesity often results from taking in more calories than are burned by exercise and normal daily activities and occurs when a person's body mass index is 30 or greater.

Medical professionals have long known the associated health risks that come from obesity, notably marked increases in high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Dr. Evan Matthews, a cardiovascular and exercise physiologist, discussed the increase in obesity prevalence in the United States using the CDC obesity maps.

“In 2012 we were seeing a little bit of a progression here where we are getting much more of the South and Midwest showing 30 to 35% obesity rates, while the rest of the country was doing better. In the latest numbers we have states now that are starting to show greater than 35% ... a good portion of the map is now in the 30 to 35% range and only a handful of states are in the 20 to 25% range.”


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According to Matthews, only one state managed to maintain its obesity percentage — Florida. At 26%, the sunshine state didn’t reduce its obesity, but also didn’t increase. Every other state in the United States witnessed its population’s obesity percentage rise by at least one point.

The CDC provides recommendations for adults and children on introducing physical activity to the daily life schedule in a publication named “Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General” which was released in 1996. To update the science in this area, a distinguished advisory committee reviewed the new research findings and rated the strength of the evidence for health benefits from physical activity. The results of this review were published in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which strengthened and extended findings from the original Surgeon General’s report.

These guidelines indicate that health benefits of physical activity include prevention of disease and reductions in risk factors associated with a range of diseases and conditions. Physical activity also is one of the elements in recommended treatments for obesity and other chronic conditions. Based on the existing evidence, these guidelines provide recommendations for physical activity for children and adults.

According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, strong evidence exists that children and adolescents benefit from physical activity through improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone health, cardiovascular, metabolic health biomarkers, and favorable body composition. In addition, moderate evidence exists that physical activity reduces symptoms of depression,

Recommendations for children

For children and adolescents aged 6–17 years, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 60 minutes or more, per day, of aerobic activity. Most of the activity should be of moderate or vigorous intensity and with vigorous-intensity physical activity on at least 3 days. Further, the CDC recommends that muscle strengthening and bone strengthening activity also be included at least three days per week.

Recommendations for adults

For adults and older adults (aged 65 years or older), the list of benefits is much longer and includes lower risk of early death, diseases of the heart and vascular system, diabetes and breast and colon cancers. Other benefits include weight loss (when combined with reduced calorie intake), improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, reduced depression and prevention of weight gain.

For older adults, there is strong evidence for better cognitive function in those who are physically active and moderate evidence for better functional health, reduced abdominal obesity, reduced risk of hip fracture, lung cancer and better ability to maintain weight loss.

The CDC recommends all adults avoid inactivity, and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity will gain some health benefits. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults aged 18–64 years need at least two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., brisk walking) every week, or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous intensity aerobic activity (e.g., jogging or running) every week or an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week. Further, they recommend muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on two or more days a week.


For more information on how to address obesity in adults or children, visit cdc.gov/obesity .

James B. Miller, Jr. is the Editor of The Dickinson Press in Dickinson, North Dakota. He strives to bring community-driven, professional and hyper-local focused news coverage of southwest North Dakota.
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