Nineteen states and two territories have at least 35% of residents with adult obesity – more than doubling the number of states with a high obesity prevalence since 2018 – according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2021 Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps also highlight the need to address disparities in obesity across states and racial and ethnic populations, through increased access to obesity prevention and treatment.
Combined data from 2019–2021 show the number of states and territories with an obesity prevalence of 35 percent or higher varies widely across race and ethnicity:
State-based adult obesity prevalence by race, ethnicity, and location is based on self-reported height and weight data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Adults with obesity are at increased risk for many other serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, severe outcomes from COVID-19, and poor mental health. Additionally, many people with obesity report being stigmatized because of their weight.
“This report illustrates the urgent need for making obesity prevention and treatment accessible to all Americans in every state and every community,” said CDC acting principal deputy director, Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H. “When we provide stigma-free support to adults living with obesity, we can help save lives and reduce severe outcomes of disease.”
Accessible and Equitable Approach Needed for Obesity Prevention and Treatment
These findings highlight the importance of equitable access to prevention and treatment. Supporting adults with obesity and its related health issues will take a sustained, comprehensive effort from all parts of society to reduce disparities and improve the health of our communities. In addition, obesity is a disease for which treatment options exist, including proven weight management programs, medications, and bariatric surgery. However, there is inequitable access to proven obesity treatment in the United States.
The National Strategy released today, in advance of tomorrow’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health outlines concrete steps the Federal government can take to help states and communities reduce these disparities so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
“There are key actions and resources that can help slow and ultimately reverse the obesity epidemic,” said Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “These include supporting healthy individual lifestyle changes and ensuring that all people have access to healthy foods, evidence-based health care services, obesity treatment programs, and safe places for physical activity.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes in many people’s lives and habits that have the potential to affect their weight positively or negatively. To ensure health equity, states and communities using these data to prioritize actions will need to address health disparities and social determinants of health such as poverty, lack of access to health care, healthy and affordable food, and safe and convenient places to be physically active. Individuals who are worried about excess weight should talk with their healthcare provider about their concerns, family history of chronic disease, current lifestyle, and other health risks.
The 19 states and two territories are: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Note: CDC encourages the use of respectful images and person-first language (e.g., “adults with obesity” or “adults have obesity”) and not “obese adults” when discussing obesity and other chronic diseases.