Obesity Rates May Stabilize in the United States

While obesity rates could be slowing among adults, racial and ethnic disparities must be addressed.

New data suggest that obesity rates among US adults may be leveling off after years of rapid increases, according to the annual State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America study published by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Despite the positive findings, the authors report that if the programs and policies that lead to stabilization are weakened, obesity rates could resume an upward climb.

In 2017, the authors report that obesity rates only exceeded 35% in 5 states; however, obesity rates still remain at 30% in 25 states and 25% in 46 states, according to the study.

Obesity rates among adults in Colorado, Minnesota, Washington, and West Virginia increased, but the rate decreased in Kansas. The rest of the states were observed to remain at a constant rate.

These findings suggest that obesity rates have been steadying in more recent years. Last year’s State of Obesity report was the first to record a decline in obesity rates, with 4 states showing a decrease and overall slowed growth, according to the TFAH.

Previously, the authors found that obesity rates were climbing upwards, with increases in 31 states in 2006 and 16 states in 2010, according to the study.

Although Colorado’s obesity rate was found to be decreasing, the state still has the lowest rate at 22.3%, while West Virginia had the highest rate at 37.7%.

The authors found that nearly all of the 11 states with the highest rates were located in the South and nearly all of the 25 states with the highest rates were located in the South and the Midwest, according to the study.

However, the report suggests that childhood obesity rates have stabilized over the past 10 years, including among low-income preschoolers between 2011 and 2014.

“Obesity rates are still far too high, but the progress we’ve seen in recent years is real and it’s encouraging,” said Richard E. Besser, MD, president and CEO of RWJF. “That progress could be easily undermined if leaders and policymakers at all levels don’t continue to prioritize efforts that help all Americans lead healthier lives.”

The State of Obesity report also showed several disparities.

The authors noted that more than 40% of blacks were obese in 15 states and 35% of Latinos were obese in 9 states, while obesity rates were only more than 35% for whites in 1 state, highlighting the racial and ethnic disparities.

Obesity rates were approximately 30% higher for adults without a college education and an income lower than $15,000 compared with the population, according to the study.

The TFAH and RWJF recommend that policymakers invest in prevention strategies, prioritize programs for children, maintain school-based programs, invest in community programs, implement labeling rules, and expand healthcare.

“It’s clear that the progress we’ve made in fighting obesity is fragile — and that we’re at a critical juncture where continuation of the policies that show promise and increased support and resources could truly help bend the rising tide of obesity rates,” said John Auerbach, president and CEO of TFAH. “We’re far from out of the woods when it comes to obesity. But we have many reasons to be optimistic thanks to parents, educators, business owners, health officials and other local leaders. Our nation’s policymakers must follow their example to build a culture of health.”