Overweight and Obesity in the U.S.

In the U.S.:

  • 68.5% of adults are overweight or obese; 34.9% are obese.
  • 31.8% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese; 16.9% are obese.
  • 30.4% of low-income preschoolers are overweight or obese.
  • Disparities exist based on race-ethnicity, gender, age, geographic region, and socioeconomic status.

Obesity rates have more than doubled in adults and children since the 1970’s (National Center for Health Statistics, 2009). While recent estimates suggest that the overall rates of obesity have plateaued or even declined among some groups, obesity is widespread and continues to be a leading public health problem in the U.S. (Ogden et al., 2014; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2012; Wen et al., 2012). Plus, substantial disparities exist based on demographics (e.g., race-ethnicity, gender), geographic region, and socioeconomic status (SES). See the section on the Relationship Between Poverty and Overweight or Obesity for more information on SES disparities.

Adult Overweight and Obesity in the U.S.

More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese (Ogden et al., 2014). In general, rates of overweight and obesity are higher for African-American and Hispanic women than Caucasian women, higher for Hispanic men than Caucasian and African-American men, higher in the South and Midwest, and tend to increase with age (Ogden et al., 2014; Gregg et al., 2009; Sherry et al., 2010). Research also shows that the heaviest Americans have become even heavier the past decade (Beydoun & Wang, 2009).

Racial-Ethnic Disparities
Recent national data show that 82.0 percent of Black women and 77.2 percent of Hispanic women are overweight or obese compared to 63.2 percent of White women (Ogden et al., 2014). In addition, over half of Black women are obese (versus 37.1 percent of Black men and 32.8 percent of White women) (Ogden et al., 2014). Extreme obesity continues to be higher among women (8.3 percent) than men (4.4 percent), especially among Black women who have more than double the rates of extreme obesity as White and Hispanic women (16.4 percent versus 7.4 percent and 7.6 percent) (Ogden et al., 2014). Rates of overweight or obesity are higher for Hispanic men (78.6 percent) compared to Black men (69.2 percent) and White men (71.4 percent) (Ogden et al., 2014).

The table below highlights these and other selected data on adult overweight and obesity from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

U.S. Prevalence of Adult Overweight and Obesity (NHANES 2011-2012)

Overweight or Obesity 

BMI >/=
25 kg/m2

Obesity 

BMI >/=
30 kg/m2

Extreme Obesity 

BMI >/=
40 kg/m2

All 68.5% 34.9% 6.4%
All Females 65.8% 36.1% 8.3%
White
(non-Hispanic)
63.2% 32.8% 7.4%
Black
(non-Hispanic)
82.0% 56.6% 16.4%
Hispanic 77.2% 41.4% 7.6%
All Males 71.3% 33.5% 4.4%
White
(non-Hispanic)
71.4% 32.4% 3.8%
Black
(non-Hispanic)
69.2% 37.1% 6.9%
Hispanic 78.6% 40.1% 3.7%

Source: Ogden C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B.K., & Flegal K. M. (2014). Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association, 311(8), 806-814.

Childhood Overweight and Obesity in the U.S.

About a quarter of 2-5 year olds and one-third of school-age children (including adolescents) are overweight or obese in the U.S. (Ogden et al., 2014). About 30 percent of low-income preschoolers are overweight or obese (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011).  Overweight and obesity rates tend to be higher and have increased more rapidly over time among African-American and Hispanic children than Caucasian children (Freedman et al., 2006; Ogden et al., 2012; Ogden et al., 2014). The prevalence is also higher among children living in the Southern region of the U.S. (e.g., Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky) (Singh et al., 2008).

Racial-Ethnic Disparities
Based on recent national figures, 29.2 percent of White girls are overweight or obese compared to 36.1 percent of Black and 37.0 percent of Hispanic girls (Ogden et al., 2014). About 40 percent of Hispanic boys are overweight or obese, compared to 34.4 percent and 27.8 percent of Black and White boys, respectively (Ogden et al., 2014). Rates are the highest, and very alarming, for 12-19 year old Hispanic boys (39.6 percent are overweight or obese) and 12-19 year old Black girls (42.5 percent are overweight or obese) (Ogden et al., 2014).

While little national data are available on Native American children, several studies have found substantially higher obesity rates compared to the national average and other racial-ethnic groups (Gordon & Oddo, 2012; Smith et al., 2009; Zephier et al., 2006). For example, obesity rates are twice as high for Native American preschoolers than for White or Asian preschoolers (Anderson & Whitaker, 2009). In addition, while obesity risk tends to rise among adult immigrants as they become more acculturated to the American diet and health behaviors (Singh et al., 2011), there is evidence that children of the least acculturated immigrants have a greater risk of obesity than children of natives or settled immigrants, especially among boys, Whites, and Hispanics (Van Hook et al., 2009).

The following table provides some of the most recent data on childhood overweight and obesity from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

U.S. Prevalence of Childhood Overweight and Obesity (NHANES 2011-2012)

Overweight or Obesity 

BMI-for-age >/= 85th percentile

Obesity 

BMI-for-age >/=
95th percentile

All 31.8% 16.9%
2-5 year olds 22.8% 8.4%
6-11 year olds 34.2% 17.7%
12-19 year olds 34.5% 20.5%
All Females
2-19 years old
31.6% 17.2%
White (non-Hispanic) 29.2% 15.6%
Black (non-Hispanic) 36.1% 20.5%
Hispanic 37.0% 20.6%
All Males
2-19 years old
32.0% 16.7%
White (non-Hispanic) 27.8% 12.6%
Black (non-Hispanic) 34.4% 19.9%
Hispanic 40.7% 24.1%

Source: Ogden C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B.K., & Flegal K. M. (2014). Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association, 311(8), 806-814.