Escalating U.S. Obesity trends:  Signs of Stability Ahead.

Weight trends, especially obesity trends, are rigorously tracked by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

How did it Happen?

How did it Happen? According to research done by Dr. Steve Nugent and documented in his book, The Genetic Key Diet, (Alethia Corporation, 2006), the American obesity epidemic began about the same time that low-fat dieting was introduced in the 1980's.

As the low-fat approach to dieting took hold, fueled by the efforts to keep blood cholesterol as low as possible, the percentage of obese adults in the U.S. began an incredible upward trend.  Obesity trends just took off.

The series of charts below from the CDC document the rising  obesity trends in the U.S. for selected years.

The 1994 chart below shows an almost equal geographic split between 10%-14% obese in the west and 15%-19% in Texas and the midwest.

1994 CDC obesity map

The 1997 chart below shows Mississippi, Indiana and Kentucky appearing as the first states to crack the 20%-24% obese group and a large increase in the 15%-19% group.  Obesity trends are on the rise.

1997 CDC obesity map

The 2003 chart below shows most of the country is now in the 20% to 24% area with Indiana, West Virginia, Mississippi and Alabama breaking into the 25%-29% group.  Obesity trends are still rising.

1994 CDC obesity map

The 2007 chart shown below, shows Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee being the first states to break into the over 30% obese territory.  Only one state, Colorado, remains in the 15%-19% group with most states now firmly in the 25% to 29% area.  Obesity trends have broken new ground.

2007 CDC obesity map

Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among U.S. Adults by State and Territory, 2013

The 2013 map pictured above shows that the trend is still increasing and illustrates the following:

  • No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.
  • 7 states and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity between 20% and <25%.
  • 23 states had a prevalence of obesity between 25% and <30%.
  • 18 states had a prevalence of obesity between 30% and <35%.
  • 2 states (Mississippi and West Virginia) had a prevalence of obesity of 35% or greater.
  • The South had the highest prevalence of obesity (30.2%), followed by the Midwest (30.1%), the Northeast (26.5%), and the West (24.9%).
You can link to the CDC site at: to see various obesity maps for the last few years.

There may be Good News on the Horizon!

The good news is that the steady increase in obesity trends for Americans seems to be leveling off.  Although levels are still alarmingly high at 34% for adults over the age of 20, there has been no appreciable change in either men or women from 2003 to 2006. 

The rate of increase in obesity in women actually started slowing in 1999 and has been fairly level since then.  The trend is less clear for men but they have been closing the gap with women.  The number of obese men is now sitting at 33.3%, only 2% less than women.

These percentages translate to over 72 million Americans being obese.

The cause of the leveling off for this period is unclear and we can only hope that people are waking up to the dangers of obesity and educating themselves on smart dieting.  Unfortunately, the years from 2007 and on to 2013 seem to indicate that we are still putting on the pounds at a growing rate.

Obesity trends are far from uniform.

Looking at the charts above, it would appear that where we live imposes a cultural dimension on our chances of becoming overweight and ultimately obese.

If you looked at the site page on Body Mass Index (BMI), you will have seen that obesity is defined as a BMI reading of 30 or more.

The highest concentration of obesity is seen to be in the southern states and the lowest in the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado. 

Moderate levels are seen in the upper northeast (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut).  We also see a pocket of moderate BMI readings in the western states of California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

If you have ever spent time in the deep south and experienced southern "comfort food" it's easy to understand the elevated BMI figures for Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.  If east Texas were split off into a separate state, I'm sure it would be right up there as well.

Some sharp demographer out there has probably done a study on all this and it would be interesting to see the conclusions. I suspect it's more than just the comfort food. I'll bet there would also be a good positive correlation between the BMI numbers and the drinking culture state by state.

One Who Got It Right

That "southern comfort food" phrase reminded me of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who lost 110 pounds in a fairly short period of time. 

During one of his recent shows on FOX, a member of the audience asked how he did it.  His answer was that he quit eating what southerners eat, went to more fruit and veggies and started an exercise program.  Way to go, Mike!

Economics...Putting the Brakes on
the Obesity Trend

Due to the rising cost of healthcare on American corporations, it is likely that the economic burden of caring for the overweight and obese employee will have repercussions. 

In 2005, the CEO of General Motors is on record stating that his company spends more on healthcare than it does on steel, approximately $6 billion per year.  I doubt GM is buying much steel these days but hopefully that will change. 

We are already seeing more and more companies taking pro-active steps to slim down overweight employees; providing weight management programs, penalizing heath coverage benefits and threatening termination.  I'm sure the lawyers are salivating over that one but that's another story.

Some companies are refusing to hire overweight applicants.  Fearing lawsuits, many fast food chains are offering more healthy items on the menu. 

Perhaps there will be a reversal of the upward trend we have seen.  For now that is the indication but time will tell whether or not it is just a hiccup in the upward spiral.

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