Obesity Is Progressively Getting Worse in America

May 21st 2015

Laura Donovan

Last week, new research revealed that the societal cost of obesity could exceed $1.1 trillion if all the obese children today remain obese in adulthood, according to The Brookings Institute and the World Food Center of the University of California-Davis. The researchers also found that there are 12.7 million obese kids in America, and considering this new "obesity over the years" chart from CNN, high obesity levels among young people aren't surprising.

Looking at data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), the chart shows that obesity has steadily climbed across the board from 1985 to 2006. Though there wasn't ample data on state-by-state obesity in 1985, the states that did provide obesity statistics back then saw a major jump in obesity rates by 2006. For example, California obesity rates were below 10 percent in 1985, but hovered right below a quarter in 2006. Mississippi, West Virginia, and Alabama all had obesity rates higher than 30 percent in 2006, an increase for all three states since 1991. By 2006, 27 states had obesity rates between 25 and 30 percent. Seventeen states had obesity rates between 20-24 percent in 2006:

Obesity in America over the years

What is obesity?

The CDC defines obesity as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above. BMI is determined by a person's weight in relation to his or her height, "specifically the adult’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his or her height in meters," according to the CDC.

Which cities are staying in shape?

The American College of Sports Medicine just released its eighth annual American Fitness Index, which suggests that the cities with the fittest residents tend to be the most pedestrian-friendly. The Washington, D.C., area topped the list with Minneapolis-St. Paul taking second place, San Diego coming in third, and San Francisco in fourth.

There's plenty to do in the nation's capital, which has many parks and museums, a robust metro system, and popular farmer's markets. Walter R. Thompson, chairman of the American Fitness Index Advisory Board, told CNN that a city's "walkability" makes a huge difference in fitness rates.

"In Washington, D.C., 95 percent of the population live within a 10-minute walk to a park," Thompson said. "Clearly the environmental indicators in D.C. would lend themselves more towards supporting people who want to be physically active and healthy."

California, which is known for having sunny weather and outdoor areas like the beach and the redwood forest, had many highly ranked cities. Riverside, Calif., was the only exception for the state, ranking 34th on the list. Louisville, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Memphis, and Indianapolis were also at the bottom of the list.

Education and obesity

Deborah Ann Ballard, a physician with Louisville-based KentuckyOne Health, told USA Today that education plays a role in obesity rates.

"The more highly educated a population is, the more people tend to practice good health behaviors such as exercise, healthy eating and stress reduction," Ballard said. "What I see in a lot of patients is that they accept illness and poor health as the norm."

In addition to being the fittest city, Washington, D.C., is also the most educated city in the U.S., according to a 2010 study conducted by the Brooking Institute. The list also included Minneapolis-St. Paul and San Francisco as the most educated cities.

Obesity costs on society and the individual

As the Brookings Institute found in its study, obesity has major financial costs as well as health consequences.

"These health costs are felt in multiple different categories," Matthew Kassman, a Brookings Institute research associate, said at an event in Washington, D.C., last week. "The first is private costs: those that are borne by individuals themselves ... direct and indirect costs such as quality of life and lost wages. There's also public costs: those that are borne by taxpayers and private firms, and again these are direct in terms of healthcare and indirect such as lost productivity."

Kassman's remarks are consistent with a 2011 Gallup poll, which found that overweight, unhealthy, and obese citizens cost the country $153 billion in lost productivity every year, with obese and overweight individuals having more unhealthy days annually.

"If all 12.7 million U.S. youth with obesity became obese adults, the societal costs over their lifetime would cost $1.1 trillion," Kassman continued. "Even if it weren't morally incumbent on us to care about the life and health of our fellow citizens, our research indicates that we have a clear economic incentive to do so."