CDC Data Show Obesity Among U.S. Adults Remains High

No State, Territory Reported Less Than 20 Percent Prevalence

September 05, 2017 04:22 pm News Staff

In a media advisory issued on Aug. 31(, the CDC announced the release of its latest adult obesity prevalence maps(, which show that obesity levels in the United States remain high.

[Map of U.S. showing obesity levels by state]

Based on data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Among findings seen in state and territory data drawn from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) in 2016 was that more than 20 percent of adults in all states had obesity, with numbers ranging from 22.3 percent in Colorado to 37.7 percent in West Virginia.

Regionally, the South's obesity tally was the highest at 32 percent, followed closely by the Midwest (31.4 percent), the Northeast (26.9 percent) and the West (26.0 percent).

The five states hardest hit by the obesity epidemic are Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia, which all counted more than 35 percent of their adult population as having obesity.

The situation off the mainland wasn't much better. Guam's obesity prevalence was between 25 percent and 30 percent; the prevalence in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was in the 30 percent to less than 35 percent range.

Additional Findings

Education level appeared to correlate with obesity prevalence, in that adults with more education were less likely to report having obesity. Adults without a high-school education self-reported the highest obesity level -- 35.5 percent -- followed by high-school graduates (32.3 percent), adults with some college (31 percent) and college graduates (22.2 percent).

Age also seemed to be a factor, with young adults being about half as likely to report obesity as middle-aged adults. Specifically, people ages 18-24 had the lowest rate of obesity -- 17.3 percent -- compared with those ages 45-54, who were at the high end of the spectrum at 35.1 percent.

As for race and ethnicity, combined BRFSS data for 2014-16 showed self-reported obesity at

  • 38.3 percent for non-Hispanic blacks;
  • 32.5 percent for Hispanics; and
  • 28.1 percent for non-Hispanic whites.

The CDC said in its media advisory that the millions of Americans who have obesity are at increased risk for serious chronic diseases and other adverse health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, specific cancers, poorer mental health, and infertility and problems during pregnancy.

Unfit to Serve

On top of hurting workers' productivity and increasing health care costs, obesity negatively affects Americans' ability to serve in the military.

The CDC's media advisory referenced a handout from the agency's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity titled "Unfit to Serve: Obesity Is Impacting National Security."(

The handout explains that nearly a quarter of young adults in the United States are ineligible to serve in the military because of their weight. Obesity also is an issue among active-duty service members, with the condition having increased 61 percent from 2002 to 2011 among these individuals.

"Over the last decade, we have experienced increasing difficulty in recruiting soldiers due to the decline in the health of our nation's youth," said Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, retired, in the handout. "Unless we see significant change in physical activity and nutrition in America, our national security will be affected."

The CDC's media advisory also acknowledged the extent of the problem by stating, "Preventing and reducing obesity in the United States will require action by many parts of society. State and community leaders, employers, government agencies, health care providers and many others can help make it easier for adults and their families to move more and eat healthier to reduce the risk of obesity."

Related AAFP News Coverage
Health is Primary: Use New Year to Promote Fitness, Nutrition
Campaign Also to Focus on Primary Care Advocacy in 2017


Take 5 Challenge Tasks Physicians With Focusing on Obesity

More From AAFP
Overweight, Obesity and Fitness

American Family Physician: AFP By Topic: Obesity Food and Nutrition( Exercise and Fitness(