In 2010, more than one-third of American adults ages 20-74 were obese, and another third were overweight. Even though I was well aware of the growing “obesity epidemic,” watching the steady, seemingly inexorable, increase in obesity rates between 1985-2010 came as a nearly physical shock.
Prior to 1991, no state had an adult obesity rate greater than 15%. Seven years later, in 1998, the highest obesity rates were above 20%. Three years later, in 2001, obesity rates in Mississippi exceeded 25%, and rates in other states soon rose. By 2010, no state had an adult obesity rate less than 20%; adult obesity rates were equal to or greater than 25% in nearly three-quarters (36) of the states.
Obesity is a major risk factor for many of the leading causes of preventable death, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and is associated with significantly higher medical costs. Given the size of the epidemic, even small changes in obesity prevalence would result in substantial medical savings, as well as improvements in longevity.
Rebecca Tippett is a Research Associate at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service where she studies household economic well-being and produces population estimates and projections.