At a time when the United States is debating the merits of a healthcare bill that seeks to simultaneously reduce government expenditure and encourage good health, there is worrying news trickling in that obesity is on the rise across the United States.

A report released by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says obesity rates went up in 28 of the 50 states across America with only the Columbia reporting a reduction. What's more worrisome is that obesity rates that stood at below 20 percent across all states in 1990 is now above 25 percent in 38 of the states.

The statistics compiled by the two organizations reveal that the southern states accounted for 10 of the 11 fattest states of the US with Mississippi leading the race at 33.8 per cent. As opposed to this, west and the northeastern states were amongst the healthiest vis-à-vis weight.

States like Connecticut, Colorado, Columbia, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Utah, Montana and New Jersey were amongst the states with the lowest rates of obesity. The report also measures racial, ethnic and income-related statistics and found that Blacks and Latinos had a higher rate of obesity across as many as 40 states.  

From a financial perspective, Americans who were making less than $15,000 a year had a higher rate of obesity (35.3%) compared to those making well over $50,000 dollars a year. The rate of obesity with the rich was lower at 24.5 per cent.

The most disconcerting statistic in the report relates to obesity among the teenagers, especially those aged between ten and 17 years. Nearly one-third of this population is considered obese, meaning that close to 12 million children and teens are considered obese by the standards prescribed by the government agencies.

The report says that these children are at a considerably higher risk of having health problems as they grow up. Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease are more likely amongst the obese children.

In a statement, Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health believes obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges the country has ever faced and it would require consistent effort amongst all groups to reverse what is now being called a national epidemic.