Obesity in America is one thing that America can certainly boast of being at the No.1 position in the world – a leader of sorts – but I don’t think, the country is proud of it.

Obesity, classified as a disease, has grown into a global epidemic engulfing almost every country in the world. And, the United States “boasts” of the highest rate and the highest percentage of obese people.

This post explains the American obesity trends by state, age, race, and education and how it expanded over the years.

One-third of Americans are overweight, another one-third are obese; that makes two-thirds of Americans exposed to serious health concerns, some of which are life-taking. This makes America a fat and unhealthy country.

Your body mass index (BMI) tells you whether you are underweight, of normal weight, overweight or obese. BMI is a measure of your body fat with respect to your weight in relation to your height and is applicable to adult men and women aged 20 and over.

A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy. One-third of Americans have a BMI of 25 kg/m2 to 29.9, making them overweight. Another one-third has a BMI of 30 and more putting them in the obesity category.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that 3/4 of the American population will be overweight or obese by 2020.

Obesity and being overweight are precursors to a host of health complications, which access almost every body organ and system.

They increase your risk of high cholesterol levels, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, asthma, erectile dysfunction, sterility, complications in pregnancy, and a lot more.

Obesity ranks second as the cause of preventable premature death next to smoking and is responsible for approximately 100,000–400,000 deaths in the United States every year.

Obesity trend in America over the years

The statistics below tell you how the number of obese and overweight people increased in the United States over the years. They are for adults 20 years and older.

Overweight and obese people year-wise – 20 years and older

  • 1962: 23%
  • 1997: 39.4%
  • 2004: 44.5%
  • 2007: 56.6%
  • 2008: 63.8% of adults
  • 2010:  65.7% overweight and obese almost equally divided
  • 2013 – 2014: 70.7% overweight and obese
  • 2013 – 2014: 37.9 % solely obese [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)]
  • 2015-2016: 39.6%
  • 2017: Almost 40% of adults and 19% of youth are obese.
  • In the 20 years, 1980 to 2000, the obesity figures doubled in the United States.
  • From 1999-2000 data to 2015-16, there has been a 30% increase in adult obesity and a 33% increase in youth obesity.

This is one growth, the U.S. would do well without.

Obesity in America – trend as per race

  • In 2015, the rate of obesity for adult Caucasian men was 31.1% and for adult Caucasian women, it was 27.5%
  • Obesity incidence among Hispanics is about 31%.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest obesity incidence (about 37%).
  • Non-Hispanic whites have an obesity rate of about 25%.
  • Asians in the US have the lowest obesity rate of 16%.
  • As of 2015, the rate of obesity was 34.4% in adult Black men and for adult Black women, the rate of obesity was 44.7%.
  • For the same year, the obesity rate for American Indian or Alaska Native adults was 42.9%. No gender breakup was available

Prevalence as per age

  • The obesity rate increases with age. It is lowest at ages between 18 to 29 years (at about 20%) and highest in the age group between 50 years to 59 years (at about 31%).
  • 8 out of 10 Americans over the age of 25 years are overweight.

As per education and income

In a study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s State of Obesity, obesity was inversely in proportion to the education of the individual.

  • The incidence of obesity is highest in people with less than a high school degree (about 33%).
  • Of the adults who didn’t graduate high school, more than 35 percent were obese compared with 26 percent of those who finished college.
  • 33 percent of adults who earned less than $15,000 per year were obese, while a quarter of those who earned at least $50,000 was obese

As per gender

  • 99 million adults in the U.S. are overweight, out of which 45 million are men and 54 million are women.
  • Over 70 million adults in the United States are obese, out of which, 35 million are men and 35 million are women

Geographical trend as per state

Obesity among Americans is not uniformly spread. Some states have more obesity presence than others. Here are a few statistical facts about some starts:

States with obesity rates between 35% to 38%

  • West Virginia
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama

Those with obesity rates between 30% to 34.9%

  • Tennessee
  • Kentucky
  • Texas
  • North Dakota
  • Kansas
  • Wisconsin

States with obesity rates between 25% to 29.9%

  • Maryland
  • South Dakota
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • New York
  • California

Those with obesity rates between 22% to 23.9%

  • Hawaii
  • Massachusetts
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia

Some more facts about American obesity

That the obesity rates in America are rising rather too fast can be gauged by the following facts:

  • Today, about 30% of the adult (20 years and above) population is obese.
  • That translates to 60 million U.S. adults are not just overweight but obese.
  • Of these, about 6% are extremely obese (with morbid obesity).
  • Today, there are more obese adults in the United States than overweight adults.
  • Nearly 4 million Americans weigh more than 300 pounds.
  • 78% of Americans do not meet the basic recommendations for physical activity.
  • 25% of Americans lead a completely sedentary life.
  • Americans spend about $33 billion on weight loss products and weight loss services annually.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the health cost of obesity in the United States is as high as $147 billion annually. This is more than that spent on smoking.
  • In 2008, the medical cost incurred by obese people was $1,429 more than that spent on those with normal weight. This includes payment by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers, and includes prescription drug spending.
  • Obesity rates are lowest on the North Eastern and West Coast and highest in the Midwest and South.

What has caused this American obesity epidemic?

The causes of this outbreak of obesity in America can be attributed to three factors:

Eating habits

The main cause of obesity in America becoming so widespread is the eating habits of the American, people.

An American unhealthy diet consists of fried foods, junk food, and sugary drinks not just containing saturated fats (the bad fats) but also trans fats, which increase fat deposits in the body.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a person’s diet should contain only 10% of sugar. 100 year ago a person consumed only 10 pounds of sugar. Presently, an average American consumes 100 pounds of sugar per year. This is because food manufacturers have replaced fat calories with sugar calories to please the palate.

The most widely eaten foods in America are French fried potatoes. They contain a significant amount of saturated fats, which are bad fats.

Burgers again are bad for you and Americans thrive on them. A thick burger that is eaten along with fries and soda will give you 2,000 calories, which is the recommended intake for the whole day and not at one meal.

The portions served are also large or rather huge. Advertisements see to it that you get tempted and children are the first ones to fall prey.

In 1972, Americans spent $3 billion on fast food. In 2003, the figure has skyrocketed to $110 billion.

This post provides a good description of the American diet.

No physical activity

A sedentary lifestyle is a lifestyle routine with no or very little physical activity or exercise. This type of lifestyle lets the fat deposits increase in the body, which otherwise exercise would burn.

About 30% of Americans, children above 6 years old, and adults are believed to live a completely sedentary lifestyle with no physical activity.

And 8 in 10 American adults do not follow the recommendations required for aerobic fitness and strength.


Genetics is one of the factors that has been linked to obesity although little is known about the pathophysiology. Studies have recognized changes in several genes that may be responsible for weight gain.

The involvement of genetic causes in the development of obesity is projected to be 40–70%. One gene, in particular, the FTO gene, is believed to be responsible.