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Overweight and obesity statistics 2021

What is obesity? | How common is obesity? | Obesity epidemic | Obesity in America | Obesity statistics by sex | Obesity statistics by age | Obesity and overall health | The cost of obesity | Causes, prevention, and treatment | FAQs | Research

Obesity is a medical condition characterized by having too much body fat, which can cause health problems and complications. Learning more about obesity is a helpful first step toward managing the condition and living a healthier life. Let’s take a look at some obesity statistics, ways to treat obesity, and how to help prevent it.  

What is obesity? 

Obesity is a medical condition that happens when someone has an excessive amount of body fat. Having too much body fat can increase the risk of getting additional health problems, and it can cause health problems of its own. 

Healthcare providers can diagnose obesity based on body mass index (BMI), waist circumference measurements, and other symptoms. BMI factors in someone’s height, body weight, age group, and sex. A BMI of 30 or higher often indicates obesity. Moreover, a waist measurement of over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men may also indicate obesity. Additionally, here are some common symptoms of obesity: 

  • Being overweight
  • Tiredness
  • Joint or back pain
  • Low self-esteem/low confidence 
  • Snoring
  • Increased sweating

Treatment for obesity often involves exercise, new eating habits, nutritional supplementation, medication, and in some cases, surgery.

How common is obesity? 

  • On average, one out of every three adults is obese, which is about 36% of the population. (Harvard, 2020)
  • The age-adjusted prevalence of obesity in adults from 2017-18 was 42.4%. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020)
  • By 2030, an estimated 20% of the world’s population will be obese. (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2016)
  • About 18.5% of children ages 2 to 19 are considered obese in the United States. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019)

Obesity epidemic: How many people are obese in the world?

Obesity doesn’t just affect people in the U.S. People in many countries experience obesity, and it’s becoming a global epidemic. 

  • An estimated 500 million adults in the world are obese
  • If unaddressed, an estimated 1 billion adults will be obese by 2030. 
  • More than 25% of U.K. adults are obese
  • Forty-four percent of women in Saudi Arabia are obese

(Harvard, 2020)

Obesity in America

  • 1 out of every 3 U.S. adults is obese. (Harvard, 2020)
  • Non-Hispanic black women experience the highest rates of obesity in America at 59%. (Harvard, 2020)
  • Obesity rates are higher for Hispanic, Mexican American, and non-Hispanic black populations than they are for Caucasians. (Harvard, 2020)
  • The South and the Midwest have the highest obesity prevalence. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019)
  • All U.S. states and territories have an obesity rate of at least 20%. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019)

Obesity statistics by sex

  • Overall, adult obesity rates are higher for women. (National Center for Health Statistics, 2013-2014)
  • 4 out of 5 African-American women are overweight or obese. (Office of Minority Health, 2018)
  • 3 out of 4 Latina or Hispanic women are overweight or obese. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018)
  • Obesity rates for men are highest for middle-income groups. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020)
  • Obesity rates for non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic Asian, and Hispanic women are highest for lowest-income groups. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020)

Obesity statistics by age

  • In the U.S., obesity is more prevalent among adults than youths. (National Center for Health Statistics, 2015-2016)
  • Childhood obesity is rising globally, with 43 million overweight and obese children under the age of 5 (Harvard, 2010). 
  • 1 in 6 children ages 2 to 19 are obese (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2013-2014). 
  • Obesity is more prevalent among 6- to 19-year-olds than in 2- to 5-year-olds. (National Center for Health Statistics, 2015-2016)

Obesity and overall health

Being obese can hinder someone’s quality of life and have serious health consequences like developing heart disease, strokes, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint problems, and sleep apnea.  

  • There are more than 2.8 million hospital stays every year in the U.S., where obesity is a cause or contributing factor. (Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, 2012)
  • Approximately 300,000 people die from obesity in America every year. (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2004)

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The cost of obesity

  • The medical care costs of obesity are almost $150 billion per year in the U.S. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020)
  • Obese individuals spend about $1,500 more on medical care for themselves than people of healthy weight. (Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, 2012)
  • Obesity-related medical costs could rise by $48 to $66 billion per year by 2030. (Harvard, 2020)

Causes of obesity

Obesity is thought to be caused by a combination of physical, psychological, environmental, and/or genetic risk factors. Some diseases and medical conditions can also cause or contribute to obesity. 

Here are some of the leading causes of obesity: 

  • Lifestyle choices, including eating unhealthy, processed, and fried foods; physical inactivity; and smoking can lead to obesity. 
  • A family history of obesity could mean a person stores fat differently and metabolizes food slowly. Both of these factors can contribute to obesity.  
  • Social and economic problems shape our health habits. For example, kids who aren’t taught to eat healthily or exercise are more likely to become obese. Some studies show that having a low income can contribute more to obesity because of a lack of resources to buy healthier foods.
  • Underlying medical conditions, like polycystic ovary syndrome or Cushing’s disease, can contribute to weight gain and obesity. See this list of medications that cause weight gain.

Obesity prevention

Preventing obesity involves a combination of many changes, such as: 

  • Physical activity 
  • Eating healthy foods 
  • Reducing stress
  • Limiting screen time
  • Avoiding processed foods
  • Consuming plenty of fiber
  • Having strong support and social group 

“Preventing obesity is a complex issue,” says Taylor Graber, MD, the owner of ASAP IVs. “Eating a well-balanced diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat meat/fish/poultry, combined with ample cardiovascular exercise to maintain a calorie-neutral or calorie-deficit diet, is optimal.” 

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Many doctors like Dr. Graber are working with patients to help fight obesity, and there are countless organizations and institutions focused on preventing, treating, and raising awareness about obesity. Here are some organizations and institutions focused on obesity and overweight prevention: 

  • WeCan! launched a health education curriculum to teach children ages 2 to 5 about making healthy choices.
  • The World Obesity Federation established World Obesity Day in 2015 to recognize organizations around the world and increase awareness of the global obesity crisis.
  • The National Institute for Children’s Health Quality reached 149,000 to 232,000 people with local messaging about healthy weight and trained more than 350 local leaders to work with public health officials to prevent obesity in their communities.
  • The Obesity Action Coalition advocates for more than 70,000 individuals with obesity to fight weight bias and discrimination.

Obesity treatments

Treating obesity will likely involve one or more of the following:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Physical exercise
  • Eating healthier
  • Medication
  • Bariatric surgery
  • Weight management programs
  • Gastric balloon systems  

Here are some well-known and commonly prescribed obesity medications: 

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Some new medications, like central nervous system agents and gut-specific agents, may help with weight loss. These drugs are currently in clinical trials.

The best way to learn more about obesity treatments and medications is to talk with your healthcare provider. He or she will be able to develop a treatment plan for you to help you reach a healthy weight.  

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Obesity questions and answers

Why has obesity become so common?

There are many reasons why obesity has become so common. People are eating more processed and high-fat foods, they’re eating larger portions, they’re exercising less, and they’re spending more time in front of screens. These are just some of the reasons for the global rise in obesity. 

What percentage of Americans are obese? 

Nearly 40% of American adults aged 20 and over are obese. 71.6% of adults aged 20 and over are overweight, including obesity. (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2017-2018; Harvard School of Public Health, 2020).  

What are the states with the most obese populations?

These states have the highest prevalence of obesity, with rates over 35%: 

  • Alabama 
  • Arkansas 
  • Iowa 
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana 
  • Mississippi 
  • Missouri
  • North Dakota 
  • West Virginia

What are the current rates of obesity in adults?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 40% of adults in the United States are obese. 

Does obesity cause other diseases?

Obesity dramatically increases the risk of developing other medical conditions or diseases like: 

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke 

RELATED: Reversing prediabetes with diet

Can certain diseases cause obesity?

Some diseases can cause or contribute to obesity: 

  • Cushing’s disease
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Insulin resistance

How many people die of obesity?

Unfortunately, obesity can cause premature death, and although it’s difficult to know exactly how many people die of obesity, some studies estimate that 300,000 die from obesity every year in the U.S.  

Obesity research