The Numbers Behind Obesity

Last reviewed Fri 27 October 2017

By Tim Newman

Reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS

Being overweight or obese carries a range of negative health consequences. In America and further afield, over recent decades, obesity rates have increased significantly. Here we look at the numbers behind the surge.

The health risks associated with obesity are many; they include an overall increased risk of death from all causes, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and mental illness.

Because obesity is associated with such a wide range of health issues, understanding the numbers behind this trend is more important than ever.

Currently, about 36 percent of American adults are obese — more than 1 in 3. And, globally, more than 1 in 10 humans are obese.

In this article, we look at the facts and figures behind obesity in America and the world at large, including breakdowns by states, countries, age, and sex.

Defining “obese”

Obesity is often split into three classes.

Firstly, it is important to understand how obesity is defined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define obesity as a BMI of 30 or higher.

Obesity is further split into:

  • class 1 obesity: BMI 30–34
  • class 2 obesity: BMI 35–39
  • class 3 (“extreme” or “severe”) obesity: BMI 40 or higher

In children, overweight and obesity is defined according to the CDC’s growth charts. For children and adolescents aged 2–19:

  • 85th percentile or above: Overweight
  • 95th percentile or above: Obese
  • at or above 120 percent of the 95th percentile: Extreme obesity

Obesity statistics: United States

These figures come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) carried out by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS):


  • overweight: 38.7 percent
  • obesity (including extreme obesity): 35 percent
  • extreme obesity: 5.5 percent


  • overweight: 26.5 percent
  • obesity (including extreme obesity): 40.4 percent
  • extreme obesity: 9.9 percent

Obesity by ethnicity

Obesity does not impact all races equally in the U.S. The following give the percentage of obese adults in each group:

  • non-Hispanic blacks — 48.1 percent
  • Hispanics — 42.5 percent
  • non-Hispanic whites — 34.5 percent
  • non-Hispanic Asians — 11.7 percent

Obesity by age

Obesity is not split evenly across all age groups:

  • 20–39 — 32.3 percent
  • 40–59 — 40.2 percent
  • 60 or over — 37.0 percent

Obesity in children

A paper, published in JAMA in 2016, took measurements from 40,780 children and adolescents, aged 2-19 between 2013 and 2014. Over all, 17 percent were obese and 5.8 percent had extreme obesity.

Breaking the age groups down further:

  • Age 2–5 years — 9.4 percent obese and 1.7 percent extreme obesity.
  • Age 6–11 years — 19.6 percent obese and 4.3 percent extreme obesity.
  • Age 12-19 years — 20.6 percent obese and 9.1 percent extreme obesity.

Obesity rates by state

Using data from the CDC, State of Obesity have compiled obesity rates for individual states for 2016. The highest rates were found in:

  1. West Virginia— 37.7 percent
  2. Mississippi— 37.3 percent
  3. Alabama— 35.7 percent
  4. Arkansas— 35.7 percent
  5. Louisiana— 35.5 percent

States with the lowest obesity rates were:

  1. California— 25.0 percent
  2. Hawaii— 23.8 percent
  3. Massachusetts— 23.6 percent
  4. District of Columbia— 22.6 percent
  5. Colorado— 22.3 percent
By | 2018-12-09T22:28:42-05:00 December 9th, 2018|Breaking Health News, Diet & Excercise|0 Comments

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