U.S. obesity rates hold steady but remain high

August 19, 2013

After three decades of increases, adult obesity rates remained level in every state except for one, Arkansas, in the past year, according to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2013,” a report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Thirteen states now have adult obesity rates above 30%, 41 states have rates of at least 25%, and every state is above 20%, according to the report. In 1980, no state was above 15%; in 1991, no state was above 20%; in 2000, no state was above 25%; and, in 2007, only Mississippi was above 30%.

Since 2005, there has been some evidence that the rate of increase has been slowing. In 2005, every state but one experienced an increase in obesity rates; in 2008, rates increased in 37 states; in 2010, rates increased in 28 states; and in 2011, rates increased in 16 states.

“While stable rates of adult obesity may signal prevention efforts are starting to yield some results, the rates remain extremely high,” said Jeffrey Levi, Executive Director of TFAH. “Even if the nation holds steady at the current rates, Baby Boomers—who are aging into obesity-related illnesses—and the rapidly rising numbers of extremely obese Americans are already translating into a cost crisis for the healthcare system and Medicare.”

Key findings from the 2013 F as in Fat report include:

  • Rates vary by region. Of the states with the 20 highest adult obesity rates, only Pennsylvania is not in the South or Midwest. For the first time in eight years, Mississippi no longer has the highest rate—Louisiana at 34.7% is the highest, followed closely by Mississippi at 34.6%. Colorado had the lowest rate at 20.5%.
  • Rates vary by age. Obesity rates for Baby Boomers (ages 45–64) have reached 40% in two states (Alabama and Louisiana) and are 30% or higher in 41 states. By comparison, obesity rates for seniors (ages 65+) exceed 30% in only one state (Louisiana). Obesity rates for young adults (ages 18–25) are below 28% in every state.
  • Rates by gender are now consistent. Ten years ago, there was nearly a 6 percentage point difference between rates for men and women (men: 27.5%, women: 33.4%), and now rates are nearly the same (men: 35.8%, women 35.5%). Men’s obesity rates have been climbing faster than women’s for this last decade.
  • Rates of “extreme” obesity have grown dramatically. Rates of adult Americans with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher have grown in the past 30 years from 1.4% to 6.3%—a 350% increase. Among children and teens (ages 2–19), more than 5.1% of males and 4.7% of females are now severely obese.
  • Rates vary by income. More than 31% of adults ages 18+ who earn less than $25,000 per year were obese, compared with 25.4% of those who earn at least $50,000 per year.

The report includes a growing set of strategies that have improved health–but stresses that they are not yet implemented or funded at a level to reduce obesity trends significantly. Some key recommendations from the report regarding strategies that should be taken to scale include:

  • All food in schools must be healthy;
  • Kids and adults should have access to more opportunities to be physically active on a regular basis;
  • Restaurants should post calorie information on menus;
  • Food and beverage companies should market only their healthiest products to children;
  • The country should invest more in preventing disease to save money on treating it;
  • America’s transportation plans should encourage walking and biking; and
  • Everyone should be able to purchase healthy, affordable foods close to home.

Report (pdf)