Obesity Statistics In 2024 —  Interesting Facts To Know

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Reviewed by Dr. Michael DiLeo, MD
Obesity statistics indicate obesity’s prevalence and its disturbing trend. Photo: saltodemata/Shutterstock

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Obesity statistics provide information about the prevalence of obesity in the United States. These statistics can be important for understanding the overall health of the population.

Body mass index, i.e., BMI, is computed by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. While a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 kg/m2 is defined as overweight, obesity is identified, or defined[1], by a BMI of 30 kg/m2in adults. The statistics discussed below are obesity rates that are based upon this definition. They also demonstrate how obesity rates can vary based on demographic factors, such as race and ethnicity. 

As discussed below, obesity is common in the United States. It is also a growing problem internationally. In many cases, individuals who are classified as obese should lose weight to reduce the risk of medical problems.

Key Obesity Facts

Obesity statistics provide insights about the prevalence of obesity and who it affects. Consider the statistics below:

  • As of 2021, 19% of states had an adult obesity rate over 35%.
  • In 2021, the data showed that 33% of U.S. adults were obese.
  • Among all adults in the U.S., 37.1 million have diabetes. 
  • The obesity rate in children aged two to five is 13.4%. 
  • Among children aged six to 11, 20.3% are obese.
  • In adolescents aged 12 to 19, the obesity rate is 21.2%.

Obesity Statistics In The United States

Obesity Statistics In Adults

obesity statstics
Prevalence of obesity among adults aged 18 and over in the U.S. from 2011 to 2021. Photo: Team Design
  • United States obesity statistics show that the prevalence of obesity has risen gradually over the past decade. As of 2021, around 33% of the population[2] aged 18 years and older was obese.
  • Earlier research in 2017-2018 showed that more than 2 in 5 adults[3], or 42.4%, had obesity. This included severe obesity. It’s important to note that this figure is age-adjusted. This means figures were adjusted to numbers representing the age distribution in the general population. 
  • Non-Hispanic Black adults, at 49.9%,[4] had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity. This was followed by Hispanic adults at 45.6%[4] and non-Hispanic White adults at 41.4%.[4] Non-Hispanic Asian adults had the smallest percentage of obesity, at 16.1%.[4]

These health statistics show that the prevalence of obesity varies based on race/ethnicity. Non-Hispanic Asian adults have significantly lower obesity rates when compared to other races. Non-Hispanic Black adults have the highest prevalence of obesity. However, rates for Hispanic adults and non-Hispanic White adults are not significantly lower. Nearly half of non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic adults are obese. Just over one-fifth of non-Hispanic White adults are obese. 

Obesity is associated with the development of several health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.[5] It is also linked[1] to reduced income potential and increased healthcare costs. 

The obesity facts below also discuss its prevalence in children, which is calculated differently than for adults. BMI is not used for defining obesity in children two to 18 years of age. Instead, pediatric charts calculating percentile scales are used, applying BMI compared to other children according to sex and age.

Age-Adjusted Statistics 

Obesity prevalence rates can vary based on the sample under study and how data are presented. Some statistics are crude rates, meaning they report total prevalence. Others are adjusted for factors like age. Others are distinguished by race, geography, and even income.

When statisticians conduct a prevalence survey, the people who choose to participate may present a bias. That is, those willing to be good sports about giving their time may be different from those who refuse. Such participants may be different from those in the population as a whole. 

Sometimes, the people who take a survey may be younger or older, on average, than the entire population. They may be unemployed or on vacation. There are many reasons a select group of people might choose to participate. This fact is not lost on those in the statistics sciences. Statisticians can account for this, i.e., correct for this. For example, they can adjust their prevalence data to reflect the age distribution in the general population. 

Consider the following age-adjusted overweight and obesity in America statistics[3]:

  • Obesity is found in 42.4% of all U.S. adults, defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. This figure includes severe obesity. 
  • Severe obesity is found in 9.2% of adults, defined as a BMI of 40 or higher.
  • Overweight adults comprise 30.7%, defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9. 
  • Data show that the designations overweight and obese are slightly more common in men compared to women. Among men, the prevalence of overweight status is 34.1%, compared to 27.5% for women. Additionally, 43.0% of men, compared to 41.9% of women, are obese. 
  • Severe obesity is more common in women compared to men, with prevalences of 11.5% and 6.9%, respectively. 
  • Severe obesity in adults is most common among non-Hispanic Blacks, for whom the prevalence is 13.8%. Whites have the second-highest prevalence, at 9.3%, followed by Hispanics, at 7.9%. Severe obesity is least common in non-Hispanic Asians, for whom the prevalence is just 2%. 
  • The prevalence of severe obesity is most common in those aged 40 to 59, with a rate of 11.5%. Compare this with 9.1% for ages 20 to 39 and 5.8% for age 60 and above.
obesity statistics
Total number of U.S. adults with diabetes in 2019, by age group (in millions)*. Photo: Team Design
  • Diabetes data[6] from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that while 5.6 million people aged 18 to 44 have diabetes, its prevalence increases with age. Among those 45 to 64 years old, 15.5 million have diabetes. In the age bracket of 65 and older, 15.9 million people have diabetes. 
  • Overall, 37.1 million adults in the U.S. have diabetes. 

Data from the CDC[7] show that 14.7% of all U.S. adults have diabetes. Almost three times as many people aged 45 to 64 have diabetes when compared to those aged 18 to 44. A similar increase is noted when comparing those aged 65 and above to the 18 to 44 age bracket. 

The prevalence of diabetes in the United States is linked to overweight diagnosis and obesity. High BMI increases the risk[8] of diabetes. Physiological processes that occur with obesity contribute to insulin resistance.[9] Over time, this creates poor blood glucose control. 

It’s important to note that not everyone who has diabetes realizes that they have this health condition. As of 2019, 28.5 million[6] U.S. adults had diabetes. An additional 8.5 million[6] had undiagnosed diabetes. These numbers do not even address the condition called pre-diabetes,[9] indicating those at risk for diabetes. 

Prediabetes is serious, as blood sugar levels may not be high enough to be diabetes but are higher than normal. Nearly a hundred million American adults — more than a third — have prediabetes, and 80% of them don’t even know it. 
Between 2001 to 2004 and the 2017 to 2020 periods, the prevalence of total diabetes cases, including both diagnosed and undiagnosed, increased slightly.[7]

Obesity Statistics In Youth

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the 2017–2018 NHANES[3] data determined:

  • Among children ages two to five, more than one in eight, or 13.4%, have obesity.
  • Among children and youth ages six to 11, more than one in five, i.e., 20.3%, have obesity.
  • Among adolescents ages 12 to 19, more than one in five, i.e., 21.2%, have obesity.
obesity statistics
Prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years, by sex and race and Hispanic origin. Photo: Team Design
  • Among children aged two to 19, obesity rates are lowest in non-Hispanic Asian boys and girls. The respective prevalence for each is 12.4% and 5.1%.[3]
  • The highest rates of obesity in children and adolescents are seen in non-Hispanic Black girls and Mexican-American boys. Respectively, their obesity rates are 29.1%[3] and 29.2%.[3] Hispanic boys also have a high obesity rate — 28.1%. 
  • Non-Hispanic white boys have an obesity rate of 17.4%,[3] comparable to the rate for non-Hispanic Black boys, at 19.4%.[3]
  • Obesity rates for non-Hispanic white girls are 14.8%.[3] This is higher than the rate for non-Hispanic Asian girls. However, it is lower than the rate for Mexican-American girls, Hispanic girls, and non-Hispanic Black girls. 

Childhood obesity statistics show that prevalence varies considerably based on gender and race/ethnicity. For example, non-Hispanic Asian youth have the lowest obesity rates. However, non-Hispanic white boys and girls have lower obesity rates compared to other minority youth. 
Differences in obesity rates can be due to environmental factors and systematic barriers. Research has shown[10] that negative health outcomes in Black and Hispanic youth are linked to easy access to fast food and convenience stores. Minoritized racial groups may face additional challenges, such as food insecurity and increased stress, which can contribute[11] to poor diet quality.

Geography

obesity statistics
Number of States with Adult Obesity Rates Above 30 Percent, 2011 – 2021. Photo: Team Design
  • In a 10-year period, the number of states with an adult obesity rate of over 35% increased to 19[12] in 2021, according to The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Data.
  • West Virginia has the highest obesity rate in the country at 41%.[13] 
  • The District of Columbia has the lowest obesity rate of 24.3%.[13]

Between 2011 and 2021, obesity rates have climbed in the U.S. The percentage of states with an adult obesity rate over 35% has increased every year since 2013. In 2011 and 2012, no states had an obesity rate over 35%. By 2019, however, 12% of states had an obesity rate above 35%. This figure climbed even higher by 2021, with 19% of states having an obesity rate above 35%.

Other Facts About Obesity

  • Central obesity was significantly associated with increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related mortality,[14] especially heart diseases-related mortality, even among normal-weight adults. This is related to the health risk associated with abdominal obesity, even among those with normal weight. Abdominal obesity is part of the metabolic syndrome.[15] 
  • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was nearly $173 billion dollars in 2019.[4] Medical costs for adults who had obesity were $1,861 higher than medical costs for people with a healthy weight.
  • According to the World Health Organization,[15] global obesity rates have almost tripled since 1975. 
  • Overweight designations and obesity are no longer limited to high-income countries as they were in the past. Rates of obesity[15] in middle-income countries are on the rise. Rates are also increasing in poor nations. Since 2000, the number of overweight children younger than five has increased by almost 24%[15] in Africa. 

Obesity increases healthcare costs not just for individual people but across the country as a whole. It increases the risk of chronic disease and contributes to higher medical expenses. This relates to its association with heart disease and other health problems,[16] such as stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease.  

Treating medical conditions linked to being overweight and obese places a strain on healthcare systems. As the prevalence of obesity increases in middle and low-income countries, it is becoming a global health problem.

What Is Obesity?

Obesity is followed statistically. For the individual, however, the bottom line is that this condition occurs when people have an increase[17] in the number and size of fat cells. The WHO[15] has defined obesity as “excessive fat accumulation that may impair health.” 

For adults, obesity is defined as a body mass index that exceeds 30 kg/m2.[1] The BMI, calculated[17] by taking body weight in kilograms divided by the squared body height in meters, measures overall body fat

In children, whether a child is overweight or obese is calculated differently[18] than in adults. A child is defined as overweight or obese based on their BMI percentile instead of the raw BMI figure. This is the methodology by which the child’s BMI is compared with the BMIs of other children in their age group. It is a ranking within their peer groups.

A child at the 95th percentile[18] or above for BMI is considered obese. When a child is at the 85th to the 95th percentile[18] for BMI, they are considered overweight. 

Percentile indicates rank. If a child is at the 95th percentile for BMI, only 5% of children their age have a higher BMI than they do.

Causes Of Obesity

There is no single cause of obesity. Rather, there are a variety of risk factors that contribute to it. Obesity develops with excessive weight gain, which can be due to numerous factors. These include[17]:

  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Consuming high-calorie foods.
  • Lack of nutritious foods in the diet.
  • Genetics and family history.
  • Certain medications.
  • Poor sleep habits. 

Beyond these general risk factors, complex environmental and socioeconomic factors can contribute to obesity. Neighborhood environments in which there is limited access to sidewalks and recreational facilities can lead to obesity. People living in these neighborhoods do not have the same opportunities for physical activity. 
Health inequalities due to low income and low educational levels can also increase the risk[18] of obesity.

Can Obesity Lead To Other Chronic Diseases?

Yes, obesity is associated with chronic diseases. Research has found[16] that obesity increases the risk of death and disability from chronic disease. Obesity affects overall health negatively and contributes to[19] excess body fat accumulation within the body. This, in turn, causes cardiometabolic problems and other functional disturbances in the body. 

According to the CDC,[20] overweight and obesity are linked to the following health problems:

  • High cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Asthma.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Joint problems.
  • Gallstones.
  • Stroke.
  • Various types of cancer. 

Childhood obesity is also linked to physical and mental health problems. Children who experience being overweight and obese are at risk of[18] heart disease and diabetes. They are also more likely to experience mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Conclusion

National health data show that obesity is common in the United States, with just over two-fifths of adults being obese. Trends indicate that obesity rates have increased over time. 

Children are also at risk of becoming obese, with slightly over one-fifth of those aged six to 11 being obese. In some racial and ethnic groups, over one-fourth of children are obese. 

The increases in obesity rates among children and adults are alarming, and they are part of a global health problem. It is critical that medical professionals and public health officials educate people on how to lose fat for better health.

For those who are classified as overweight or obese, lifestyle changes are important. Excess calories and lack of exercise can lead to weight gain, which can be reversed. 
If you’re experiencing weight gain or obesity, a healthy diet and regular exercise routine can be helpful. It’s important to track your calories in a day to determine how much you’re eating. Excess calorie consumption will lead to fat gain. Over time, this can lead to obesity and related health problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main cause of obesity?

There are several factors, not one main cause, that contribute to obesity. These include high-calorie diets, lack of exercise, genetics, poor sleep habits, use of certain medications, and socioeconomic factors like low income and lack of opportunity for physical activity.

Why is obesity a problem?

Obesity is a public health problem because it is associated[21] with numerous diseases, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. It is also linked to early death and societal economic burden.

What are the current statistics of obesity?

Current obesity rates in the United States are 33% for adults. Health statistics show that 20.3% of children aged six to 11 are obese. Childhood obesity rates vary by age and race/ethnicity.

Is obesity a new epidemic?

Not new, but obesity is rising. In 2011, 12% of states had an obesity rate of 30% to 35%. By 2021, 22% of states had an obesity rate of 30% to 35%, and 19% had an obesity rate over 35%.

+ 20 Sources

EHproject has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We work mostly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure accurate information. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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  2. ‌Cdc.gov. (2021). DNPAO Data, Trends and Maps: Explore by Topic | CDC. [online] Available at: https://nccd.cdc.gov/dnpao_dtm/rdPage.aspx?rdReport=DNPAO_DTM.ExploreByTopic&islClass=OWS&islTopic=&go=GO.
  3. NIDDK (2023). Overweight & Obesity Statistics. [online] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity.
  4. CDC (2022). Adult Obesity Facts . [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.
  5. Ortega, F.B., Lavie, C.J. and Blair, S.N. (2016). Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation Research, [online] 118(11), pp.1752–1770. doi:https://doi.org/10.1161/circresaha.115.306883.
  6. ‌‌CDC (2023). Prevalence of Both Diagnosed and Undiagnosed Diabetes . [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report/diagnosed-undiagnosed-diabetes.html.
  7. ‌CDC (2023). National and State Diabetes Trends. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/reports/reportcard/national-state-diabetes-trends.html.
  8. ‌Abdullah Saleh Algoblan, Al-Alfi, M.A. and Muhammad Zargham Khan (2014). Mechanism linking diabetes mellitus and obesity. Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, [online] pp.587–587. doi:https://doi.org/10.2147/dmso.s67400.
  9. ‌NIDDK (2023). Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes. [online] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance#:~:text=the%20normal%20range.-,What%20is%20insulin%20resistance%3F,help%20glucose%20enter%20your%20cells..
  10. ‌Kraft, A.N., Thatcher, E. and Zenk, S.N. (2020). Neighborhood Food Environment and Health Outcomes in U.S. Low-Socioeconomic Status, Racial/Ethnic Minority, and Rural Populations: A Systematic Review. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, [online] 31(3), pp.1078–1114. doi:https://doi.org/10.1353/hpu.2020.0083.
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  15. ‌WHO (2021). Obesity and overweight. [online] Who.int. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Jacobsen is a university professor and mental health professional with over 10 years of experience writing in the health and wellness space. See More