Obesity on rise in U.S., particularly in rural areas

Growing numbers of adults and kids in the U.S. have obesity, and the problem is worse in rural areas, according to a recent national survey.

Obesity—having a body mass index of 30 or more—increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

The latest findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), outlined in a July 11, 2018 article in U.S. News & World Report, compared obesity data from 2013-16 with data from 2001-04. Findings included:

  • Youth obesity prevalence went from 15.4% to nearly 18%.
  • Obesity is nearly 22% among rural kids, compared with 17% for urban kids.
  • Overall adult obesity is close to 39%.
  • In rural areas, the prevalence of severe obesity tripled among men and doubled among women.

Despite the statistics, nutrition expert Walter Willett of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told U.S. News that rising obesity isn’t inevitable. Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, noted that obesity rates are stabilizing in some areas, such as New York City, where obesity-reduction efforts have included improving food and nutrition in schools, creating more parks, and mounting a campaign against soda. He added that promoting walkable, bike-safe communities can also help reverse sedentary lifestyles.

“Everyone needs to be engaged in this if we’re really going to turn around the obesity epidemic,” Willett said.

Read the U.S. News & World Report article: Obesity Keeps Ballooning in the U.S., With Rural Areas Seeing Biggest Spikes

Learn more

Health, quality of life varies widely across U.S. (Harvard Chan School news)

Comprehensive national strategy needed to curb childhood obesity (Harvard Chan School news)

Obesity: Can we stop the epidemic? (Harvard Chan School magazine)