An Epidemic of Obesity: U.S. Obesity Trends

In 1990, obese adults made up less than 15 percent of the population in most U.S. states. By 2010, 36 states had obesity rates of 25 percent or higher, and 12 of those had obesity rates of 30 percent or higher. (1)

Today, nationwide, roughly two out of three U.S. adults are overweight or obese (69 percent) and one out of three is obese (36 percent). (2) While U.S. obesity rates have, overall, stayed steady since 2003, the rates are still rising in some groups, and disparities persist: Non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, and Mexican American adults have higher rates of obesity than non-Hispanic white adults. (2)

Even more alarming, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents is on the rise, and youth are becoming overweight and obese at earlier ages. One out of six children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 are obese and one out of three are overweight or obese. (3) Early obesity not only increases the likelihood of adult obesity, (4) it also increases the risk of heart disease in adulthood, (5) as well as the prevalence of weight-related risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. (69)

Overweight is at least partly responsible for the dramatic increase in diagnoses of type 2 diabetes mellitus (formerly called adult–onset diabetes) among children. That’s an especially worrisome trend, given the heavy burden of complications associated with the disease. In the U.S., the nationwide SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study found that type 2 diabetes accounted for only 6 percent of new diabetes cases in non-Hispanic white children ages 10 to 19 years, but anywhere from 22 to 76 percent of new cases in other ethnic groups. (10)

Read more about global adult obesity trends and child obesity trends on The Obesity Prevention Source, a new website from Harvard School of Public Health.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight and Obesity: Adult Obesity Facts.

2. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among US adults, 1999-2010. JAMA. 2012;307:491-7.

3. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among US children and adolescents, 1999-2010. JAMA. 2012;307:483-90.

4. Singh AS, Mulder C, Twisk JW, van Mechelen W, Chinapaw MJ. Tracking of childhood overweight into adulthood: a systematic review of the literature. Obes Rev. 2008;9:474-88.

5. Baker JL, Olsen LW, Sorensen TI. Childhood body mass index and the risk of coronary heart disease in adulthood. N Engl J Med. 2007; 357:2329–37.

6. Dietz WH. Childhood weight affects adult morbidity and mortality. J Nutr. 1998; 128:411S–414S.

7. Steinberger J, Moran A, Hong CP, Jacobs DR, Jr., Sinaiko AR. Adiposity in childhood predicts obesity and insulin resistance in young adulthood. J Pediatr. 2001; 138:469–73.

8. Srinivasan SR, Bao W, Wattigney WA, Berenson GS. Adolescent overweight is associated with adult overweight and related multiple cardiovascular risk factors: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Metabolism. 1996; 45:235–40.

9. Freedman DS, Khan LK, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS. Relationship of childhood obesity to coronary heart disease risk factors in adulthood: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics. 2001; 108:712–18.

10. Search for Diabetes in Youth Study Group. The Burden of Diabetes Mellitus Among US Youth: Prevalence Estimates From the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study. Pediatrics. 2006; 118:1510–18.

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