DEC 19, 2019 10:58 AM PST

Obesity on the rise in the United States

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Even with a decade full of diet trends and superfoods, obesity rates in the United States continue to climb. According to a study published this week, by 2030 nearly one in two adults in the U.S. will be severely obese—49%. Scientists from Harvard and George Washington Universities led the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine yesterday.

According to NBC News severe obesity is a body mass index (BMI) over 35, which equates to about 100 excess pounds. Zachary Ward, lead author and doctoral candidate at Harvard, told NBC News reporters that severe obesity “used to be pretty rare…but we’re finding that it’s quickly becoming the most common BMI category in those subgroups.”

The study states explicitly that obesity will be prevalent in more than 50% of the population in at least 29 states and will remain above 35% in any other state. The study also projects that by 2030, 24% of adults will be categorized as “severely” obese. The prevalence of severe obesity will be more than 25% in 25 states. The study also predicts that severe obesity will become the most common BMI category among women, non-Hispanic black adults, and low-income adults.

To determine the projected rise in obesity in the United States, scientists used BMI data from 6.2 million adults who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey in 1993-1994 and 1999-2016. Data from this survey was self-reported, and according to the study, people usually underestimate the prevalence of obesity. To correct for the self-reporting bias, scientists compared this data to actual measured data collected from 57,000 people in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

This study also examines obesity at the state level. According to the research in the year 2000, obesity was below 35% in every state. By 2010, 27 states surpassed 35%, and by 2019 every state surpassed 35%—with the exceptions of Colorado and Hawaii. Mississippi features the highest obesity rate in 2019 at nearly 50%.

More than 30% of low-income adults across the nation are likely to become severely obese. According to an AP report regarding the study, severe obesity will become most common in 44 states where the average annual household income is below $20,000. Only one state where the average yearly household income is more than $50,000 will see a rise in severe obesity.

The JPB Foundation funded the study. According to its website, the JPB Foundation promotes opportunities for those in poverty, advances medical research, and enables a healthy environment.

Sources: New England Journal of Medicine, AP, NBC News

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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