Obesity rates have more than doubled in adults and children since the 1970’s. While some recent estimates suggest that the overall rates of obesity have plateaued or even declined among certain groups, obesity is widespread and continues to be a leading public health problem in the U.S. In addition, severe obesity is a serious and increasing problem among children, adolescents, and adults. Substantial disparities also exist based on race-ethnicity, gender, age, geographic region, and socioeconomic status.

Adult Obesity in the U.S.

The latest data indicate that 39.6 percent of U.S. adults are obese. (Another 31.6 percent are overweight and 7.7 percent are severely obese.) In general, rates of obesity are higher for Black and Hispanic women, for Hispanic men, in the South and Midwest, in nonmetropolitan counties, and tend to increase with age.

Racial-Ethnic Disparities

Recent national data show that 54.8 percent of Black women and 50.6 percent of Hispanic women are obese compared to 38.0 percent of White women. Rates of obesity are higher for Hispanic men (43.1 percent) compared to White men (37.9 percent) and Black men (36.9 percent). Obesity rates for Asian women (14.8 percent) and men (10.1 percent) are much lower than the rates for the other racial-ethnic groups. The table below highlights these and other selected data on adult obesity from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Additional analyses show that severe obesity rates are higher among women (9.9 percent) than men (5.5 percent), especially among Black women who have approximately double the rates of severe obesity as White and Hispanic women (16.8 percent versus 9.7 percent and 8.7 percent).

U.S. Age-Adjusted Prevalence of Adult Obesity (NHANES 2015-2016)

Source: Fryar et al., 2018, Health E-Stats, September 2018 (adult).

Child Obesity in the U.S.

According to the latest national figures, 18.5 of U.S. children are obese. (Another 16.6 percent are overweight and 5.6 percent are severely obese.) Obesity rates tend to be higher and have increased more rapidly over time among Black and Hispanic children than White children. The prevalence also is higher among children living in rural areas.

Racial-Ethnic Disparities

Based on national data, 13.5 percent of White girls are obese compared to 25.1 percent of Black and 23.6 percent of Hispanic girls. About 28 percent of Hispanic boys are obese, compared to 19.0 percent and 14.6 percent of Black and White boys, respectively. Rates are substantially lower for Asian boys and girls.

While little national data are available on Native American children, several studies have found much higher obesity rates compared to the national average and other racial-ethnic groups. For example, one study estimates that 29.7 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children are obese.

The following table provides some of the most recent data on child and adolescent obesity from NHANES.

U.S. Prevalence of Child Obesity (NHANES 2015-2016)

Source: Fryar et al., 2018, Health E-Stats, September 2018 (child).

Sources: Bullock et al., 2017; Flegal et al., 2016; Fryar et al.., 2018; Hales et al., 2018; Johnson et al., 2015; Lundeen et al., 2018; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2016; and Skinner et al., 2018.