Obesity Statistics

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Over the past few decades, obesity has become a major health concern in the United States and around the world. And rates continue to rise. Since the 1970s, the rate of obesity around the world has nearly tripled.1

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), more than 4 out of 10 adults (42 percent) in the United States are considered obese. Among children and adolescents ages 2 to 19, the rate of obesity is about 19 percent.2,3

How is obesity defined?

Obesity is defined as having an unhealthy amount of body fat. This amount is usually indicated by a body mass index (BMI) score of 30 or higher. BMI is a measure of body fat proportion based on a person's height and weight. While it is not a perfect measure of health, BMI is widely used as a screening tool to identify people who are overweight and living with obesity.4

Health complications of obesity

Research shows that obesity is linked to an increased risk of more than 40 chronic diseases and health conditions. These include:5

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Certain types of cancer

Who does obesity affect?

Obesity can affect people of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. But there are some groups that are more affected than others.2

Obesity is slightly more common among non-Hispanic Black adults (49.6 percent) and Hispanic adults (44.8 percent) than among non-Hispanic white adults (42.2 percent). It is much less common in non-Hispanic Asian adults (17.4 percent). Obesity is also more common among adults living in the South and Midwest regions of the United States compared to the Northeast and West regions.2

When it comes to gender, being overweight is slightly more common in men than in women:6

  • More than 1 in 3 men (34.1 percent) are overweight.
  • More than 1 in 4 women (27.5 percent) are overweight.

But the rate of severe obesity is higher among women than men:6

  • 11.5 percent of women live with severe obesity.
  • 6.9 percent of men live with severe obesity.

For children and adolescents ages 2 to 19:6

  • About 1 in 6 (16.1 percent) are overweight.
  • More than 1 in 6 (19.3 percent) live with obesity.
  • About 1 in 18 (6.1 percent) live with severe obesity.

Economic impact of obesity

As shown above, obesity can lead to major health problems that can affect overall quality of life. These health problems also can increase health and medical costs.6

Obesity has major economic impacts in the United States. A 2019 report found that US medical costs linked to obesity were around $173 billion per year. Individual medical costs for adults with obesity were nearly $2,000 higher than those of other adults.2

Addressing obesity in the United States

Obesity is a complex public health issue. To address it in a thoughtful way, experts recommend a varied approach that takes several things into account. This includes a combination of state, local, and federal action, including:7

  • Policy and environmental changes
  • Community improvements
  • Healthcare changes
  • Individual behavior changes

There also are lots of ways to make changes at the community level. Some of these changes might look like:7

  • Promoting healthy eating and physical activity in schools and workplaces
  • Providing access to affordable healthy foods
  • Starting a community garden
  • Improving access to safe places to be physically active

If you are looking for a way to get involved in healthy initiatives, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides some ideas.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.