What is the Fattest American State?

Sheri Cyprus

According to a major study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mississippi is the fattest state in the United States. The study used the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System database with the diet and exercise information of 300,000 American adults from the years 2003 to 2005. The study found that over two thirds of Mississippi's population is either overweight or obese. Being overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) between about 25 and 29.9, while a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. A normal BMI is often considered to be within the 18.5 to 24.9 range with anything below 18 considered underweight.

Two-thirds of Mississippians are overweight or obese.
Two-thirds of Mississippians are overweight or obese.

As BMI is calculated using only a person's height and weight measurements, some say it is not an accurate indicator of fitness. No considerations are given for muscle mass weighing more than fat. Athletes, for example, have more lean muscle than fat, but may still come out with a higher BMI than someone who is actually somewhat overweight. Others say the fattest state study is controversial as research has shown a definite correlation between obesity and poverty levels. Poor people do not have the same access to healthier foods and gym memberships as richer people.

An individual with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above is considered obese.
An individual with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above is considered obese.

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The fattest county in the fattest state is definitely one of the poorest areas in the United States. Jefferson County, in Fayette, Mississippi in the Delta region has the highest concentration of overweight and obese people in the fattest state. Jefferson County, population 7,000, has very low average incomes and high unemployment rates. The tiny Mississippi town does have a nutrition center and weight loss classes, but many who live there see being heavy as normal and not unhealthy.

Southern fried foods contribute to obesity.
Southern fried foods contribute to obesity.

Many people think the history of slavery plays a part in Jefferson's distinction as the fattest county in America's fattest state. Slaves worked hard all day in the Mississippi Delta in the 1850s and existed on low quality, but rich and filling foods such as calorie-laden gumbos and cornbreads. The same types of satisfying food remain a part of culture of the fattest state today. Biscuits and gravy, and many fried foods are eaten regularly in the Mississippi Delta region of the fattest state. Fried foods such as chicken fried steak, shrimp, catfish, pecans, sweet potatoes, and even dill pickles are common fare here.

Foods that are greasy contribute to obesity.
Foods that are greasy contribute to obesity.

Although the origin of Mississippi mud pie is disputed, the rich, densely chocolate pie is at least named for the dark thick mud banks along the Mississippi river. The pie is widely sold in the fattest state. Since the study labeling Mississippi as America's fattest state, government park-building and nutrition intervention programs have been launched in Mississippi.

Mississippians often indulge in fried pecans.
Mississippians often indulge in fried pecans.

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Discussion Comments


I am a resident of Mississippi and constantly see overweight people. I always try to get others to join and work out with me but no one seems to "have time" or they are to obese now and have no hope for themselves. Any advice on how to make my state care about their health?


Anon138011: The Fountain Grill on Hwy 45 North in Aberdeen, Mississippi is known for its Chicken fried steak platters.

Chicken fried steak has also been featured on menus at the University of Southern Mississippi.


Chicken Fried Steaks are not a part of Mississippi's diet.


I think you both are nuts. why don't you worry about yourselves and leave the Mississippians alone? You are just jealous because you don't have those great biscuits and gravy along with the other great foods.


The Alcorn State University Extension Program is now making plans to target Jefferson and Clairborne Counties in Mississippi for a Comprehensive Obesity Prevention Program using the research-based and tested Alcorn State University Extension Program Model for Planned Change.


Dear Sheri, I'm doing research on obesity in Mississippi. Would you be able to post your sources? I'd really like a chance to look into some of them. Thanks for your help.


Yes, in my research for writing this article I found that some experts do see a connection between obesity and poverty. Culture and climate are also part of it. Recent studies have found that friends play a major part in being overweight. (If you're interested in that topic you can access my article, "Is Obesity Actually Contagious?"


can rates of obesity be linked to poverty? i moved from california to missouri several years ago, and it was easy to gain weight! i think kansas city has ranked pretty high in obesity in the nation as well. a lot of it is the culture, and climate...places like Colorado, California and Arizona are typically the skinniest or healthiest states. how can you not get out and exercise?!

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