10 Surprising Obesity Statistics You Should Know

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Obesity is the medical classification for having an excess of fat cells. It is generally defined as a weight that is above what is considered to be healthy, and the health repercussions of obesity are extreme.

People who live with obesity are subjected to greater risks of a variety of health disorders like diabetes, heart disease, organ failure, difficulty breathing, and joint pain, among other things.

Now, that’s not to say that everyone who is overweight is automatically obese. It is a somewhat complex calculus that determines if you are obese, and everyone is different.

Some people have a genetic disposition to be heavier or lighter; you might be perfectly healthy even if you do look ‘fat.’

The important thing is to work with a doctor to help combat your weight if it is determined to be an issue. Regardless, the result of a society that prefers quick, cheap food, obesity has become a steadily rising epidemic in the United States.

#1 It’s More Common than You Might Think

a plus size woman looking looking at a plus size man

Obesity has become an epidemic. For a long time now, those words have been uttered by all sorts of organizations, from the CDC, from the American Heart Association, and from a variety of smaller private websites and companies that are keen on promoting better health. 

But the actual numbers themselves might just surprise you. As of 2016, 39.8% of the United States’ total population suffered from obesity. This equates, approximately, to 93.3 million people.

Nearly half of the entire country suffers from this condition, and the result is expensive. As of 2008, the annual medical expense for obesity-related problems was $147 billion, money that is coming out of personal wallets as well as government funds. This is a sweeping issue. 

#2 The Trends Don’t Look Good

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Data compiled on levels of obesity in the United States shows a trend that is clearly upturned

As of 2014, the prevalence of extremely obese women and men were on a steady and significant rise. The prevalence, at the same time, of overweight women and men were also on a steady, steep increase.

The only numbers that appear to have decreased slightly are those of overweight women. Those of overweight men have remained stagnant. So, obesity is a sweeping epidemic that is showing no signs of stopping or even slowing down.

#3 Obesity is Not Equally Distributed among the Population

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Strangely enough, there is a lot of data that supports the idea that certain groups, specifically minority groups, are at a heavily increased risk of obesity. 

The numbers within those minority groups are even more staggering than those that are demonstrative of the entire population.

An entire 47% of the Hispanic population, 46.8% of the black (non-Hispanic) population, 37.9% of the white (non-Hispanic) population, and 12.7% of the Asian (non-Hispanic) population are considered obese, as of 2016.

This is simply telling of the possible trend that lower socioeconomic statuses are coupled with greater levels of obesity, a sad, shocking story behind the numbers.

#4 BMI

plus size woman and a man cooking

BMI, or the Body Mass Index, is used to determine if someone is obese. 

The index is split into a variety of categories: Normal Weight (18.5-24.9), Overweight (25-29.9), Obesity (30+), and Extreme Obesity (40+). The way it works is relatively simple – based on a comparison between your weight and your height, the formula comes up with a number, which serves as your BMI rating.

It is easy to calculate, just google BMI and enter the information. For example, I am 6 feet tall and weigh 157 pounds – my BMI is 21.3 – Normal Weight. The surprising thing about this is that it is so widely used, yet seems a little too simplistic and impersonal.

#5 The Truth about BMI

a group of four plus size people posing outside

Despite its widespread use, the BMI formula is likely flawed

The formula is simple: weight/height^2. This calculation has been in use for over 100 years, which is kind of startling, considering the lengths of medical and scientific progress we have made in the intervening time.

As such, several scientists are suggesting a new, more complex, and more accurate equation. But even with a new equation, the idea that a number can define a person’s health doesn’t account for the general complexity of humanity.

This number also doesn’t account for muscle weight vs. fat weight; someone might be above the range of a healthy and normal weight and still be considered to be healthy.

#6 The Causes

a plus size woman and a dog sitting on the couch

Obesity is a complex disease – it does not have one singular cause. 

For one, sedentary lifestyles are incredibly predictive of obesity. People who are not physically active, people who watch a lot of TV, play a lot of video games, or spend their days hunched over a computer are at a much higher risk of obesity.

Additionally, unhealthy sleep habits – too little or too much – as well as genetics are strong predictors of obesity.

And, of course, eating habits are quite indicative of obesity. If you eat an excessive quantity of unhealthy food, you will likely be overweight.

Likewise, if you don’t eat enough food, you might be underweight. Neither option is good. As I said, a lot of things factor into this disease, which makes treating it very difficult. 

#7 Childhood Obesity

a little child on a pavement

Just as the rates of adult obesity are steadily rising, so are the rates of childhood obesity. 

The result of unhealthy lifestyles that are spawned by convenience, a startling number of American children are becoming obese. This is an incredibly potent issue as children who are obese have a much higher propensity to stay obese throughout adulthood.

As of 2014, in children ages 2-19, about 17% were considered obese, and about 6% were considered extremely obese.

Based on the trends, in the past five years, these numbers have no doubt, increased. Additionally, among children ages 12-19, 20.6% were obese, and 9.1% were extremely obese.

#8 Childhood Obesity Trends

two kids fooling around

The prevalence of obesity among children has steadily increased over the last 50 or so years. 

Most of the trends have remained stagnantly high since the early 2000s: children aged 12-19 and 6-11, as well as the total population of children aged 2-19, haven’t shifted much recently.

That’s not to say that it is not a problem – though the numbers haven’t changed, they have remained high.

But, the problem is in children aged 2-5; though the prevalence of obesity in this age group decreased heavily between 2009 and 2010, the numbers, since 2014, experienced a steep increase, which is predictive of a future rise of obesity prevalence.

#9 The U.S. Is One of the Most Obese Countries in the World

two plus size woman holding a sign 'wide load'

As of 2019, the U.S. ranks as the 16th most obese country in the world. 

Although America is certainly struggling with rising obesity rates, obesity is not a problem that is limited to the United States. It is an issue that is affecting the entire world.

The American Samoa, the most obese country in the world, has an obesity rate of 74.6%, with an average BMI of 34.9. The U.S., by comparison, has an average BMI of 28.8 and has an obesity rate of nearly 40%. These numbers are significant.

#10 No Really, It is an Epidemic

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Way more people are dying from obesity across the world each year than you might think. This is a disease, and it does kill. 

An epidemic is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a specific time. So, no obesity is not some type of pathogen.

However, with 2.8 million people dying annually as a result of obesity, it is now considered an epidemic. It is prevalent across all countries, from high, to mid, to low-income countries, and has become a health priority for governments across the world to solve.

Obesity is not something that can be ignored any longer. And, at the same time, it is something that is incredibly difficult to cure – again, it is not the result of a singular cause.

Rather, a variety of things work together to result in obesity, all the way from genetics to sweeping lifestyle choices…fighting obesity requires a certain strength of will that is often difficult to find.

Be that as it may, governments are doing their best to instate programs that help adults and kids get healthier, but much of the burden falls onto the individual shoulders of the people living with this disease. 

Ignore the statistics, they don’t matter. Think more so about the consequences of obesity. Ultimately, you are facing a shorter life and a lower quality of life.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to live better, longer – use that to inspire you to make the tough choice to begin to get healthier. There are people out there that can help and support you.

Regardless, you can get healthy, all you have to do is start. 

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Article by:

Daniel DeMoss

I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.