The 90s were a pivotal era in American culture.
Friends and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were big TV hits. Nirvana and Green Day were still in their early days on the airwaves. And every kid had Mortal Kombat on their Christmas list.
Oh, and the 90s also brought rising obesity rates to America.
It’s unclear whether this resulted from the growing popularity of fast food joints like McDonald’s, more screen time due to tech advances, or less physical activity and time spent outdoors.
But there’s one thing we do know:
Obesity in America has been growing at epidemic-like proportions ever since, and this public health crisis doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
So just how bad is it? What does it mean for the future of Americans?
It’s time to find out—keep reading to learn about 15 shocking obesity statistics for the United States that may have you rethink that next donut.
Table of Contents
Obesity Statistics in America
- Between 2017 and 2018, 42.4% of Americans were considered “obese.”
- Nearly 38% of Americans were obese between 2013 and 2014.
- In 2013 and 2014, 1 in 13 American adults had “extreme” obesity.
- Those aged 60 and older are more likely to be obese (41%, as compared to 39.3%).
We don’t know what caused obesity to spike in the 80s and 90s. But it’s quite clear that advancements in technology and cultural changes haven’t slowed down since.
So it’s not surprising that obesity is only getting worse.
Maybe it’s the fact that Americans spend over three hours a day browsing social media and the web on their smartphones.
Or it could be that healthy foods are expensive and take a long time to prepare—making health a privilege for the wealthy and those who don’t work long hours.
There’s also the issue that exercise is perhaps the only thing in life that you cannot pay somebody else to do for you. And since it requires work and effort, Americans give it a pass.
Lastly, obese children become obese adults.
Unhealthy eating and exercise habits in childhood and cutting sports and PE programs are likely behind the rates as well.
Obesity in Children
- In 2016, 340 million teens and children (or 18%) were obese, up from 4% back in 1975.
- Between 2013 and 2016, it was discovered that children 19 and under who had private health insurance also had the lowest instances of obesity (just 14.8%).
- By 2014, almost 30% of youths were overweight or obese, 11% higher than in 1980.
- America is one of 15 nations with skyrocketing obesity in children, with 13% of American children being classified as obese in 2013.
If you were born after the year 2000, you lived a childhood very different from those who came before you. These days, kids grow up with a smartphone, tablet, or controller in their hands.
But it wasn’t always like this.
Many kids spent long hours outside playing with friends after they finished their homework. They’d get called into the house later in the evening for a home-cooked meal.
Now, children are glued to their screens and hardly move. And when they’re looking to grab a bite to eat, they can stop by McDonald’s or Wendy’s and get a snack fast and for a low price.
And another problem is that, despite proof that physical education classes can be monumental in obesity prevention, school districts across America are cutting their programs.
In a nation where that may be the only time each week kids get moving, it’s highly concerning!
We need to encourage our tots to put on some kids CrossFit shoes and get active.
- It’s predicted that 72% of women and 83% of men will be obese or overweight in 2020.
- Of the 160 million Americans who meet the criteria for being overweight or obese, 75% of all men and 60% of all women met these standards in 2014.
- Obesity was more common in women in 2018, with 41.1% of women being considered obese, as compared to 37.9% of men.
- In 2013, 32% of American men and 34% of American women were considered “obese,” significantly higher than the 4% obesity rate in India and China.
It’s unclear why men seem to be more obese.
And it’s not entirely obvious how we’re judging who’s obese and who’s not. Are we using BMI, body fat percentages, waist circumference, or something else?
If BMI is the baseline, that can explain a lot.
BMI is a highly flawed manner of determining whether a person is a healthy weight or not, solely by inputting your height and weight (no activity level, age, gender, nothing).
The problem is that BMI doesn’t take into account your body composition.
Two people can be 5’5” and weigh 200 pounds, one with 50% body fat. And another with massive muscles and 10% body fat.
Both would be considered “obese” in BMI based on height and weight alone.
So the fact that men have stereotypically higher rates of obesity could be taking into account the guys who boast a ton of muscle mass.
It’s possible that the obesity rates of men and women would be closer without using BMI.
Obesity Statistics by State
- West Virginia has the highest adult obesity rate at 38.1%, followed by six other states (Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma).
- Just two states (and D.C.) enjoy an obesity rate below 25%, with Colorado (22.6%), Washington D.C. (23%), and Hawaii (23.8%) having the lowest rates.
- Almost 40% of American adults aged 20 and older (over 93 million Americans) are obese, with 20% of adults in every state being obese—the south and midwestern lead the way in obesity, with 32.4% and 32.3%, respectively.
It’s not all surprising that some states are far healthier than others. And there are a few reasons why there are such huge differences (like nearly 15% higher obesity rates), like:
- Low availability of gyms in rural areas of the country
- Lower income in southern states, meaning healthier food is a luxury
- Typical food and drink in the area (like sweet tea or fried foods, in the south)
The prevalence of obesity by the state has nothing to do with the physical location as much as it has to do with economic and cultural factors.
The United States is nearing the top of the global rankings in obesity rates. Today, America is sitting comfortably at #12, boasting an obesity rate of over 36%. What’s also quite interesting is that the 36.2% obesity rate amongst Americans isn’t steady from one state to the next. Some states are in a greater obesity crisis than others.
As of 2019, nine states had obesity rates above 35%, with 31 states having an obesity rate of at least 30%. West Virginia and Mississippi are tied in first place, with 39.5% of adults being obese. But not all U.S. states have such severe stats. For example, Colorado sits on the opposite end of the spectrum, with just 23% of residents meeting the criteria for obesity. These rates are steadily changing from one year to the next.
The skinniest state in America, Colorado, has an obesity rate of just 22.6%. Colorado is followed closely by D.C. (23%), Hawaii (23.8%), and California (25.1%). Interestingly enough, each of these states has only seen a 1-3% increase in obesity since the mid-2000s. But about 55% of the adult population in each state does meet the criteria for “overweight” or “obese,” so they’re not quite out of the woods.
Obesity is obviously a growing public health concern in America. But it doesn’t have to be a personal concern of your own, especially if you’re taking measures to prevent it.
For most people, obesity is a lifestyle disease.
To keep yourself at a healthy weight and reduce your risk of the conditions that obesity links to (like heart disease or type 2 diabetes), here are some tips:
- Get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week.
- Avoid foods that are processed or high in fat, sugar, salt, and calories.
- Calculate your TDEE to find out how many calories you should eat per day.
- Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
And while lifting weights won’t be a game-changer for keeping your weight low, it’ll help to sculpt your physique and make you appear more fit.
So skip the donuts and opt for a healthy snack instead!