Weighty Matters: The Obesity Epidemic Keeps Advancing

A new federal analysis shows that the adult obesity epidemic in the United States keeps on getting worse.  Between 2007 and 2016, the percentage of the adult population that was obese increased from an already very high 33.7 percent to a staggering 39.6 percent.  And the rate of those severely obese increased from just under 6 percent to close 8 percent over the same time period (see figure).  Severe obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher, which translates to someone 5’8″ weighing 265 pounds or more.

The one silver lining of the new report is that obesity in youth appears to be staying relatively steady.  While rates of obesity in ages 2 – 19 years increased from 16.8 percent in 2007 to 18.5 percent in 2016, it was not to a degree that reached statistical significance.  
Still, the continuing trend in adult obesity remains extremely troubling – not only for individuals who suffer from increased risk of cancers, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and lower quality of life but also for the nation as a whole that experiences higher health care costs and lost productivity. 
These numbers show us how important it is to keep up our efforts to address this issue – and in new and innovative ways.  We live in what many classify as an “obesigenic” society.  Technology, workplaces, and infrastructure are actively designed to cut down on physical activity. And ads and other cues that surround us encourage us to overeat – and often with unhealthy choices. 
Without diminishing the important innovations we’ve experienced as a society over the past decades, we need to harness our energy to address such unhealthy outcomes by making important changes at all levels of society – from schools and workplaces to neighborhoods and individuals to local and federal policies.  

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