Study Shows Alarming Increases in Adult Obesity in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a troubling report showing that adult obesity rates in the U.S. have increased sharply over the past 4 years. Obesity refers to excess body fat. Although this may not seem a significant issue, obesity is a major risk factor for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. As a result, the growing obesity epidemic is a major public health concern.

Key takeaways:
  • arrow-right
    Obesity is an excess of body fat to the extent that it can affect health.
  • arrow-right
    Heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer are all linked to obesity.
  • arrow-right
    Obesity is a complex problem with many causes, including individual, social, economic, and environmental factors.
  • arrow-right
    Obesity rates are increasing rapidly, and certain ethnic and racial groups are disproportionately affected.
  • arrow-right
    However, obesity is preventable through lifestyle changes and policy interventions that make healthy choices easier for everyone.

Besides the concerns of rocketing obesity rates, the 2021 Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps highlight a further noteworthy issue — the disparities in obesity across states and racial and ethnic populations.

Action to address this growing problem is imperative. Reducing obesity levels requires a comprehensive approach that includes changes at the individual, community, and policy levels.

But what can be done to combat the obesity epidemic? Continue reading as we explore this serious issue, its impact, and potential solutions.

What is obesity?

Obesity occurs when someone has an excess amount of body fat. When you consume more calories than you use, the body stores these residual calories as fat. Over time, this can lead to weight gain and obesity. Once someone becomes obese, losing excess fat and returning to a moderate weight can be difficult.

Body mass index (BMI) is often used to determine whether someone is obese, overweight, or of normal weight. It's calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. A BMI of 30 or above is considered obese, while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight.

What are the health risks of obesity?

Carrying excess body fat increases your risk of developing many chronic diseases and health conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain types of cancer, such as endometrial, breast, and colon cancer
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma
  • Reproductive health issues, such as infertility

The impact of obesity isn't only physical. It also takes a toll on mental health, leading to increased rates of depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, obesity often leads to a vicious cycle of poor health. Obesity can worsen chronic diseases, and chronic diseases can contribute to weight gain, creating a difficult situation to escape.

As a result, obesity and being overweight are the fifth leading risk of death worldwide, claiming the lives of almost 3 million adults die each year.

Who's at risk of obesity?

Multiple elements contribute to someone developing obesity, including genetic predisposition, hormones, and lifestyle factors such as diet and activity level. In addition, certain medical conditions or medications may also contribute to weight gain for some people.

In recent years, experts have also placed an increasingly larger emphasis on socioeconomics, the built environment, and food marketing in shaping people's eating habits and lifestyle choices.

While individual behavior certainly plays a role in obesity, it's not simply a matter of personal choice. Rather, it results from complex interactions between individual, social, economic, and environmental factors.

So, although unhealthy lifestyle habits are primary drivers of the obesity epidemic, certain groups are at higher risk, and there are drastic differences in obesity levels across the U.S.

According to the latest figures, nineteen states and two territories now have 35% of residents with adult obesity. The states with the highest obesity rates are West Virginia (40.6%), Kentucky (40.3%), and Alabama (39.9%), while those with the lowest obesity rates are the District of Columbia (24.7%), Hawaii (25%), and Colorado (25.1%).

The number of states with an obesity prevalence of 35% or more also varies significantly by race and ethnicity:

Black adults: 36 states and D.C.

First Nations adults: 31 states

Hispanic adults: 27 states and Guam

White adults: 10 states

Asian adults: 0 states

Why do these disparities exist?

The factors contributing to disparities in obesity rates are complex, multi-factorial, and not fully understood. However, they are often due to socioeconomic differences related to race or ethnicity.

Overall, people of lower financial status are more likely to be obese than those of higher income groups. In particular, lack of access to nutritious foods, safe places to exercise, and quality healthcare can make it more difficult to maintain a moderate weight. In addition, higher levels of food insecurity and targeted marketing of unhealthy foods also play a role in these disparities.

Furthermore, structural racism — including historical and ongoing discrimination in employment, education, housing, and other areas — has reduced opportunities and resources for many minority groups. Together, these factors contribute to the inequalities that make it more challenging for some people to lead healthy lifestyles and achieve their full potential.

What can be done to prevent obesity?

The positive news is that obesity is preventable. At the individual level, people can make lifestyle changes to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and get regular physical activity. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity and 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity each week.

At the policy level, decision-makers can take steps to make healthy choices easier for everyone. That means creating environments where people have safe places to be physically active and ensuring that everyone can access affordable, nutritious food. It also means educating people about the importance of behaviors that support well-being and providing necessary resources to help them make healthier choices.

Obesity is a complex and serious issue. While someone's behavior certainly plays a role, it results from complex interactions between individual, social, economic, and environmental factors.

To truly make a difference, obesity must be addressed from the individual to the policy level. Making healthy choices easier for everyone means creating a society that supports the well-being of all.