Junk food

Why Is Obesity Getting Worse?

According to the CDC, more than one-third, around 36.5%, of American adults are obese. That’s an estimated 160 million obese or overweight Americans. A 141.72% increase from four decades ago.

The State of Obesity annual report for 2016 showed that obesity rates were 30% or more in over 25 states, and up to 25% in 46 states. The 5 states with the highest obesity rates (above 35%) were West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The 5 states with the lowest rates of obesity rates (below 25%) were Colorado, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and California. But all states had more than 20% obesity rate.

Skyrocketing rates are putting a health and economic strain on the U.S. In 2008, the medical cost of obesity was estimated at $147 billion and ballooning.

But the U.S. is not the only country fighting an uphill battle. The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults around the world were overweight with 650 million considered obese.

While the United States ranked as the most obese country in the world, Mexico, New Zealand and Hungary followed with more than 30% obesity rates. The global cost of obesity was estimated at $2 trillion in 2014.

Overweight and obesity

Overweight and obesity are both defined as having an abnormal and excessive amount of fat that may lead to obesity-related illnesses like diabetes and hypertension.

Individuals with a Body Mass Index greater (BMI) than or equal to 25 are considered overweight. Individuals with a BMI greater than or equal to 30 are considered obese.

Factors that caused the surge in obesity rates

A 2010 study pinned the reasons for the increase of obesity on two factors – “food marketing practices” and “institutionally-driven reductions in physical activity.” Elements of what the researchers call, “the big two,” include but are not limited to, increased portion sizes, inexpensive food from fast food restaurants, availability of vending machine snacks with calorie-rich foods, increased use of high fructose corn syrup and less physical activity. Other causes besides the big two, contribute to the rise in obesity rates like, changing modes of transportation, increased urbanization, physical activity patterns, environmental & societal changes and the lack of policies to help curb the issue.

The fight against obesity

U.S. schools are now on the frontline in the fight against obesity. Former first lady, Michelle Obama, launched the “Let’s Move” initiative to encourage exercise and healthy eating in various states in 2010. This initiative was focused on decreasing childhood obesity to 5% by 2030.

But a report published in February 2018 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggested that programs aimed to stop childhood obesity may simply not be enough.

The researchers commented that, “Public health efforts to address obesity in children have been extensive, from Michelle Obama’s ‘Let's Move’ campaign, to the American Academy of Pediatrics establishing a Section on Obesity in 2013 that is distinct from other groups in the academy, as well as countless efforts led by states, hospitals, and communities. Despite these efforts, which may have had greater impact in defined populations, more resources are clearly necessary”.

On another front in fight against obesity, burgeoning waistlines have led to the rising prevalence of bariatric surgeries performed yearly. Data published by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric reported an estimated increase of 20,000 bariatric surgeries performed in 2016 to 216,000 from 196,000 the previous year. The most common form of bariatric surgery performed was Gastric Sleeve, followed by Gastric Bypass & Gastric Banding. Despite the growing numbers, out of the 20 million Americans who are eligible, only 1% go on to get the surgery for weight loss. However, specialists are quick to warn that bariatric surgery is merely a tool in the fight against obesity; it is not a cure for obesity, nor is it a long-term solution to the epidemic.

If the rising numbers are any indication, we as a nation are looking at an increasingly difficult task at hand as the obesity epidemic becomes more pervasive without any clear plan in sight.


“Overweight & Obesity” - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 5, 2018
“Adult Obesity in the United States” -The State of Obesity"
“Report: Global Cost of Obesity Is $2 Trillion Annually” - Time, November, 20 2014
“The Vast Majority of American Adults Are Overweight or Obese, and Weight Is a Growing Problem among US Children” Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation
“Ten Putative Contributors to the Obesity Epidemic” U.S. National Library of Medicine, November 2009
“Childhood Obesity: 5 Years After Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign.” Time, February 9, 2015
“Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity in US Children, 1999–2016” American Academy of Pediatrics, February 26, 2018
“Bariatric Surgery Statistics & Facts [Updated 2017]” Renew Bariatrics, August 10, 2017
“Estimate of Bariatric Surgery Numbers, 2011-2016” American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery
“We're Barely Using the Best Tool We Have to Fight Obesity” Vox, 7 Decembe 2017
“Overweight & Obesity” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 31, 2017
“Our Fight with Fat: Why Is Obesity Getting Worse?” The Conversation, April 6, 2018
“Obesity and Overweight” World Health Organization
“Overweight & Obesity” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 5, 2018
“About Let's Move” National Archives and Records Administration