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Outcome measures data for Obesity Priority Area

Arkansas residents live free from the consequences of obesity

% of Adult Arkansans Who Are Obese

Current Value




Source: CDC, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2020

Percentage of adults with a body mass index of 30.0 or higher based on reported height and weight


According to a new report from Trust for America’s Health, 36.4% of Arkansas adults are obese, the ninth-worst rate of obesity among all states in the U.S.

The annual report, “State of Obesity 2021: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” released Wednesday (Sept. 15), uses 2020 data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to identify key obesity trends at the state and national levels.

According to this year’s report, Arkansas is one of 16 states with obesity rates at or above 35%, an increase of four states from the previous year. In last year’s report, Arkansas’s obesity rate was ranked as the third-worst in the country at 37.4%. While the new data show some slight improvement, the decrease of 1 percentage point is within the report’s margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

This year’s report also highlights the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on adult obesity. A February 2021 American Psychological Association survey conducted by the Harris Poll found that 42% of adults in the U.S. reported undesired weight gain since the start of the pandemic. The average reported weight gain among that group was 29 pounds. Parents and essential workers reported the highest weight gain, with 51% of parents reporting an average weight gain of 36 pounds and 50% of essential workers reporting an average weight gain of 38 pounds. Interestingly, the study also notes that approximately 19% of adults reported undesired weight loss during the pandemic.

Analyses by ACHI and partners at the Arkansas Department of Health have demonstrated another connection between the pandemic and obesity: increased risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 among those with obesity-related conditions such as diabetes. For example, we found that a person with diabetes is 1.7 times more likely to require hospitalization and 1.6 times more likely to require admission to an intensive care unit if infected with COVID-19.

The “State of Obesity” report also highlights the impact of social determinants of health on the nation’s obesity rates. Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments where people are born, live, work, play, worship, and age that impact a broad range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes. Arkansas is ranked 48th in the report’s social determinants of health index, meaning that these conditions are better in 47 states than in Arkansas. The index considers 17 different measures across five interrelated domains: healthcare access, food access, resource access, housing and transportation, and economic security.

The report includes several recommendations for policies that could be adopted at the federal, state, and local levels to combat obesity-related challenges, highlighted in a news release issued along with the report. These include:

  • Expanding access to health insurance, including through the extension of Medicaid (which Arkansas has done through its early adoption of Medicaid expansion).
  • Increasing funding for the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
  • Making healthy school meals free for all students.
  • Closing tax loopholes and eliminating business-cost deductions for the advertising of unhealthy food and beverage choices.
  • Increasing the price of sugary drinks through an excise tax.
  • Ensuring that all residents have safe and convenient access to walking and biking trails, including safe routes for students to walk or bike to school.

There have been concerted efforts in Arkansas to address the state’s obesity crisis. Since 2015, the governor-endorsed Healthy Active Arkansas initiative has sought to improve the state’s consistently poor obesity ranking, while also encouraging and enabling healthier lifestyles in Arkansas. The initiative is comprised of a coalition of public- and private-sector stakeholders working to engage individuals, communities, schools, employers, and local governments to find ways to make healthy eating and physical activity easier for all Arkansans.


The prevalence of obesity is higher in:

  • Adults ages 45-64 than both adults ages 18-44 and adults ages 65 and older.
  • Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic adults than Asian adults. Asian adults have a significantly lower prevalence of obesity than all other racial and ethnic groups. 
  • Adults ages 25 and older with less than a high school education compared with those with higher educational attainment; college graduates have the lowest prevalence of obesity.
  • Adults ages 25 and older with an annual household income less than $25,000 compared with those with higher incomes; adults with a household income of $75,000 or more have the lowest prevalence of obesity.
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How are we doing on the data?

When asked how Arkansas adults are doing relative to the trendline data for the indicator, the stakeholders stated the following:

  • Data is showing a lower amount of obesity in Arkansas
  • More than 50% of Arkansans have a BMI above 30
  • There should be a data portal that connects data from doctors and clinics

Would be better to look at obesity data within each county vs. the whole state to better understand obesity in Arkansas

Story Behind the Curve

Stakeholders identified the following negative factors promoting obesity amongst Arkansas adults.

  • COVID-19 prevented people from participating in normal physical activities
  • Cultural differences
  • Family structure and lack of cooking skills
  • Financial factors
  • Inflation has caused the price of healthier foods to go up
  • Physical activity might be a lower priority for residents experiencing financial instability
  • Lack of access to healthy foods
  • Lack of bike trails
  • Lack of community resources
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of parental guidence
  • Lack of physical activity, more attention to television, and screen games
  • Lack of side walks
  • School system needs more healthy activities, and healthy options 

Stakeholders identified the following positive factors preventing obesity amongst Arkansas adults.

  • Access to more parks, trails and physical activity outside
  • "Breakfast after the Bell" program
  • "Double up food bucks program" offers financial support for buying healthy food such as vegetables and fruits
  • Healthy nutrition in schoools
  • Healthy foods in vending machines
  • Hometown Health offers nutrition education in school systems
  • More additional resources need to be aimed towards healthy eating and physical activity with promotions, programs, and interventions
  • Nutrition education
  • Promotion of physical activity
  • United Methodist offers food programs


Stakeholders identified the following potential partners to strengthen the positive factors or address the negative factors influencing the rate of Arkansas adults who are obese.

  • Arkansas Department of Health
  • Business within local communities including grocery stores and convenience stores
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Charitable foundations
  • Faith-based networks
  • Governor's office
  • School districts and/or the state education agency
  • WIC


Stakeholders identified the following potential partners to strengthen the positive factors or address the negative factors influencing the rate of Arkansas adults who are obese.

  • Build bike trails, walking trails, or parks to promote more active living
  • Develop and implement an early education curriculum that promotes health food choices
  • Enact a lower tax rate for fresh foods and/or healthy foods
  • Enact a policy that limits the number of convenience stores or discount retail stores in a county or zone
  • Increase access to resources that promote healthy habits
  • Increase recess time and physical activity in school system
  • Initiate a state fund available to grocery stores or retail outlets that sell food to promote fresh produce and/or health foods – for example, placing healthy foods in checkout lines rather than sugary/salty snacks
  • Launch a healthy food program specifically targeted towards students at higher education institutions
  • Make the cost of sugary drinks/unhealthy foods increasingly prohibitive by enacting a price increase for them
  • Promote local policy change that results in the limitation of how many fast food restaurants can operate in a zone/county


Stakeholders prioritized the following strategies because they ranked highest across four criteria: Impact, Feasibility, Specificity, and Value.

  • Build bike trails, walking trails, or parks to promote more active living
  • Develop and implement an early education curriculum that promotes health food choices
  • Enact a lower tax rate for fresh foods and/or healthy foods

Work Plan for First Strategy

Strategy: Build bike trails, walking trails, or parks to promote more active living.

Action Step



Evaluate existing infrastructure/policy to prioritize trail locations for maximum impact on active transportation

  • Population reached

  • Travel routes



Convene statewide active transportation/trail taskforce to engage partners

SHIP committee


Develop/find employer/business recommendations to facilitate active transportation



Work Plan for Second Strategy

Strategy: Support the implementation of an early education curriculum that promotes health food choices

Action Step



Get “Go NAPSACC” program into licensures of Pre-K and daycare centers as a requirement 



Outreach to stakeholders who could help implement the program; State administrators, local area providers, local city officials; other organizations not currently involved


12/31/22 + ongoing

Identify areas of high need or no services, and assist with licensure process



Develop evaluation plan/survey-based; providers, children and families. Identify impacts and challenges.

Sharon and Jacquie


Work Plan for Third Strategy

Strategy: Enact a lower tax rate for fresh foods and/or healthy foods.

Action Step (Steps should occur concurrently not linearly)



Convene key stakeholders for creation, input, and review of white paper.


Define what are healthy foods

Mike T.

Bryan M. 


Create a white paper on the proposal that defines terms, includes cost analysis, potential impact, etc.



Work with legislators to identify other possible supporters



Identify key sponsors for legislation



Draft proposed legislation to proposed sponsors



Legislative Session



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