Montana has the country’s sixth lowest obesity rate. That’s according to a report released Thursday by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, which says just over 26 percent of Montana residents are obese, compared to the nationwide average of about 30 percent.
Montana State University nutrition expert Carmen Byker Shanks says that’s a testament to state programs promoting nutritious, unprocessed foods in schools and hospitals.
"Really the point is that Montanans are all working together on the issue of obesity to improve Montana’s public health. And it’s obviously effective because we’re so low compared to other states."
That’s not to say the picture’s entirely rosy in Montana.
Byker Shanks says it’s difficult to get fresh fruit and vegetables across the Treasure State’s vast rural expanses.
As is the case nationwide, Montana’s health stats also suffer racial disparities. A state health department report released this year says Native American high school students had a 10 percent higher obesity rate than white students in 2017.
"I think it’s really important that we’re mindful of those disparities when we read a report like this, and focus on eliminating those across Montana to be inclusive of everyone’s health," Byker Shanks says.
Obesity rates are significant in part because the disease increases risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, heart problems and many types of cancer. The Trust for America’s Health report says obesity increases annual U.S. health care costs by $149 billion per year.