Being overweight or obese carries a range of negative health consequences. In America and further afield, over recent decades, obesity rates have increased significantly. Here we look at the numbers behind the surge.

The health risks associated with obesity are many; they include an overall increased risk of death from all causes, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and mental illness.

Because obesity is associated with such a wide range of health issues, understanding the numbers behind this trend is more important than ever.

Currently, about 36 percent of American adults are obese — more than 1 in 3. And, globally, more than 1 in 10 humans are obese.

In this article, we look at the facts and figures behind obesity in America and the world at large, including breakdowns by states, countries, age, and sex.

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Obesity is often split into three classes.

Firstly, it is important to understand how obesity is defined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define obesity as a BMI of 30 or higher (find our BMI calculator here).

Obesity is further split into:

  • class 1 obesity: BMI 30–34
  • class 2 obesity: BMI 35–39
  • class 3 ("extreme" or "severe") obesity: BMI 40 or higher

In children, overweight and obesity is defined according to the CDC's growth charts. For children and adolescents aged 2–19:

  • 85th percentile or above: Overweight
  • 95th percentile or above: Obese
  • at or above 120 percent of the 95th percentile: Extreme obesity

These figures come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) carried out by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS):


  • overweight: 38.7 percent
  • obesity (including extreme obesity): 35 percent
  • extreme obesity: 5.5 percent


  • overweight: 26.5 percent
  • obesity (including extreme obesity): 40.4 percent
  • extreme obesity: 9.9 percent

Obesity by ethnicity

Obesity does not impact all races equally in the U.S. The following give the percentage of obese adults in each group:

  • non-Hispanic blacks — 48.1 percent
  • Hispanics — 42.5 percent
  • non-Hispanic whites — 34.5 percent
  • non-Hispanic Asians — 11.7 percent

Obesity by age

Obesity is not split evenly across all age groups:

  • 20–39 — 32.3 percent
  • 40–59 — 40.2 percent
  • 60 or over — 37.0 percent

Obesity in children

A paper, published in JAMA in 2016, took measurements from 40,780 children and adolescents, aged 2-19 between 2013 and 2014. Over all, 17 percent were obese and 5.8 percent had extreme obesity.

Breaking the age groups down further:

  • Age 2–5 years — 9.4 percent obese and 1.7 percent extreme obesity.
  • Age 6–11 years — 19.6 percent obese and 4.3 percent extreme obesity.
  • Age 12-19 years — 20.6 percent obese and 9.1 percent extreme obesity.

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Colorado state has the lowest obesity rates in the U.S.

Using data from the CDC, State of Obesity have compiled obesity rates for individual states for 2016. The highest rates were found in:

1. West Virginia — 37.7 percent

2. Mississippi — 37.3 percent

3. Alabama — 35.7 percent

4. Arkansas — 35.7 percent

5. Louisiana — 35.5 percent

States with the lowest obesity rates were:

47. California — 25.0 percent

48. Hawaii — 23.8 percent

49. Massachusetts — 23.6 percent

50. District of Columbia — 22.6 percent

51. Colorado — 22.3 percent

Obesity and socioeconomic status

In men, no link has been found between education level and obesity. However, in women, those with college degrees are less likely to be obese than those without.

Similarly, women with a higher income are less likely to be obese than women with lower incomes.

Conversely, in non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men, individuals with a higher income are more likely to be obese than those earning a low income.

The cost of obesity

Aside from the obvious dangers to health, obesity is incredibly costly in a financial sense. In 2008, the annual medical cost was estimated to be $147 billion.

People who were obese had average medical costs $1,429 more than those of a normal weight.

Historically, obesity has been considered a problem in high-income countries. However, obesity in low- and middle-income countries is on the rise, especially in urban areas.

Some of these countries are facing what the World Health Organization (WHO) describes as a double burden of disease:

"It is not uncommon to find undernutrition and obesity co-existing within the same country, the same community, and the same household."

According to the WHO, on a global basis, obesity has almost tripled since 1975. Over the same period of time, in the 5–19 age bracket, obesity has risen from less than 1 percent to 7 percent. They write, "Most of the world's population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight."

In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults (39 percent) were overweight and, of these, more than 650 million (13 percent) were obese.

Global figures by sex:

  • Overweight — 39 percent of men, 40 percent of women.
  • Obese — 11 percent of men, 15 percent of women.

Children and obesity

Obesity is a growing concern, globally.

  • In Africa, the number of children under 5 who are overweight has increased almost 50 percent since 2000.
  • Nearly half of all overweight or obese children under 5 live in Asia.
  • Globally, 41 million children under 5 are overweight.
  • 340 million aged 5–19 are overweight or obese.

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According to the WHO, Vietnam has the lowest rates of obesity.

According to WHO data collected in 2016, the following countries have the highest prevalence of obesity:

1. Nauru — 61 percent

2. Cook Islands — 55.9 percent

3. Palau — 55.3 percent

4. Marshall Islands — 52.9 percent

5. Tuvalu — 51.6 percent

6. Niue — 50 percent

7. Tonga — 48.2 percent

8. Samoa — 47.3 percent

9. Kiribati — 46 percent

10. Micronesia — 45.8 percent

11. Kuwait — 37.9 percent

12. United States — 36.2 percent

The high rates of obesity found in the Pacific Islands are predominantly due to a shift away from traditional diets toward imported foods from countries such as China, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

"Promotion of traditional foods has fallen by the wayside. They are unable to compete with the glamour and flashiness of imported foods."

Dr. Temo K. Waqanivalu, WHO technical officer, Fiji

The lowest obesity rates were measured in:

1. Vietnam — 2.1 percent

2. Bangladesh — 3.6 percent

3. Timor-Leste — 3.8 percent

4. India — 3.9 percent

5. Cambodia — 3.9 percent

6. Nepal — 4.1 percent

7. Japan — 4.3 percent

8. Ethiopia — 4.5 percent

9. Republic of Korea — 4.7 percent

10. Eritrea — 5 percent

11. Sri Lanka — 5.2 percent

12. Uganda — 5.3 percent

13. Madagascar — 5.3 percent


Obesity and overweight are significant issues that are worsening across much of the planet. It is important to note that obesity-related conditions are among some of the leading causes of death, yet obesity is almost always preventable.