Eye-opening Obesity Statistics

Last modified: August 11, 2021

Obesity is a health issue characterized by having too much body fat, which may cause health complications and various diseases. Learning about obesity is the first step towards managing the condition, living a healthier life, and ridding society of this menace. 

If you’re obese, your health insurance company may see you at a higher risk of developing long-term health complications. Therefore, insurers may charge higher premiums when providing health insurance to obese people. 

In some cases, the health insurance for obese people may cost 25% to 50% more than coverage for those with a BMI below 30. Some insurers may even deny coverage for obese people. 

This article will look at obesity statistics worldwide and in the United States. We will also cover obesity statistics by age, gender, and socio-economic status. You can also learn how to treat obesity and help prevent it by reading this post.  

Obesity Statistics —Top Picks 

Here are our top picks for obesity statistics around the world and in the United States.

  • Globally, an estimated 500 million adults are obese. (Harvard T.H. Chan)
  • One out of every three adults in the U.S. is obese. (Harvard T.H. Chan)
  • All U.S. states and territories have an obesity rate of at least 20%. (CDC)
  • Overall, adult obesity rates are higher for women. (CDC)
  • The percentage of obese children is rising globally, with 39 million overweight and obese children under the age of five in 2020. (WHO)
  • No less than 2.8 million people die from obesity every year worldwide. (WHO)
  • The U.S. spends almost $150 billion per year on obesity-related medical costs. (CDC)
  • Nearly one in four young adults is too heavy to serve in the U.S. military. (CDC)

Definitions and Measurement 

Not every overweight person lives an unhealthy lifestyle, as your body mass index isn’t the best way to determine your body fat content. 

What Methods Can Be Used to Determine Body Fat Content? 

You can employ several methods to measure your body fat percentage. Some of the best ones are as follows:

Skinfold Calipers 

These have been used to estimate body fat content for more than 50 years, and they measure the thickness of the fat underneath your skin at various body locations. You can take measurements from three or seven points on your body, which vary in women and men. 

Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)

The DEXA method for measuring body fat content uses two X-rays emitting two different energies for estimating your body fat percentage. You’ll lie on your back for around 10 minutes as the X-ray will scan over you during the DEXA scan. 

Hydrostatic Weighing 

It is also called hydrodensitometry or underwater weighing. With this technique, you’ll first be weighed underwater after exhaling as much air as you can and then on dry land. Afterward, the amount of air left in your lungs after you exhale will be measured. All this info will be entered into equations to calculate the density of your body. Your body’s density will then be used to determine your body fat percentage.

Air Displacement Plethysmography (Bod Pod)

Similar to the previous methods, air displacement plethysmography will estimate your body fat percentage based on your body density. However, in ADP, air will be used instead of water. The relationship between the volume and pressure of air will allow the device to predict your body density. You’ll sit in an egg-shaped chamber for several minutes as the air pressure inside the chamber will be altered. 

Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)

During bioelectrical impedance analysis or BIA, the device will detect how your body responds to small electrical currents, which will be done by placing electrodes on your skin. Some electrodes will send currents into your body, while others will receive a signal after it passes through the tissues in your body. 

What Is BMI? 

The most common metric used for assessing obesity in an individual is the body mass index (BMI) scale. The World Health Organization defines BMI as “a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify underweight, overweight, and obesity in adults. It is defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters (kg/m²). For example, an adult who weighs 70 kg and whose height is 1.75 m will have a BMI of 22.9.”

The measured BMI values are used to determine if an individual is underweight, healthy, overweight, or obese. These categories are defined by WHO using the cut-off points, which we will share in the table below. For instance, an individual with a BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight. However, someone with a BMI over 30 will be defined as obese. 

Classification BMI (kg/m2)
Principal Cut-Off Points Additional Cut-Off Points
Underweight <18.50 <18.50
Severe Thinness <16.00 <16.00
Moderate Thinness 16.00 – 16.99 16.00 – 16.99
Mild Thinness 17.00 – 18.49 17.00 – 18.49
Normal Range 18.50 – 24.99 18.50 – 22.9923.00 – 24.99
Overweight >25.00 >25.00
Pre-Obese 25.00 – 29.99 25.00 – 27.4927.50 – 29.99
Obese >30.00 >30.00
Obese Class 1 30.00 – 34.99 30.00 – 32.4932.50 – 34.99
Obese Class 2 35.00 – 39.99 35.00 – 37.4937.50 – 39.99 
Obese Class 3 >40.00 >40.00

Why Is BMI So Prevalent?

BMI is an easy and the most common method to determine whether a person is overweight or obese. But there are also other more precise techniques used to measure body fat described above. Usually, your healthcare provider can advise you what tests are necessary in your case.

Is BMI a Good Indicator?

The benefits of using BMI as an indicator of obesity and body fat are still contested. One major contention for using BMI indicators is that it measures body mass or weight instead of measuring body fat. Physicians continue using BMI as a general indicator for health risks related to weight. Still, there are some instances where it shouldn’t be used as a reliable indicator. 

What About Bodybuilders?

Muscle mass can increase your body weight, which means that bodybuilders and athletes with a higher muscle mass percentage can be deemed overweight or obese on the BMI scale, even when they have a healthy or low body fat percentage. 

What Are the Drivers of Obesity?

At the basic level, weight gain, which eventually leads to being obese or overweight, is determined by the energy balance. When we consume more energy than the body requires to carry out daily activities, we will gain weight. That is known as an energy surplus. On the other hand, when we consume less energy than we expend, we will lose weight. That is known as an energy deficit. 

In recent decades, there have been two potential drivers of the increase in world obesity rates:

  • We increase our calorie intake by eating more. 
  • We expend less energy due to lower activity levels.

What Is the Fundamental Cause of Obesity?

The primary cause of obesity is the energy imbalance between the calories you consume and expend. Generally, it is caused by a combination of psychological, physical, genetic, and environmental factors. Some medical conditions and diseases can also contribute to the condition. 

Some of the leading causes of obesity include:

  • Lifestyle choices 
  • Family history of obesity
  • Social and economic problems 
  • Unhealthy habits
  • Underlying medical conditions  

Preventing obesity involves a combination of many factors, such as:

  • Eating healthy foods
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Reducing stress
  • Avoiding processed foods
  • Monitoring your weight regularly

Why Has Obesity Increased in Modern Times?

People around the world have started consuming more energy-dense foods rich in sugars and fat content. Plus, increased urbanization, evolving transportation modes, and the sedentary nature of various forms of work have led to a dramatic reduction in physical activity.

The changes in physical activity and dietary patterns occurred mainly due to societal and environmental transformations. The lack of supportive policies in crucial sectors like urban planning, health care, food processing, environment, transport, agriculture, education, marketing, and distribution have also influenced the rising cases of obesity globally.

The Global Distribution of Health Impacts From Obesity 

Obesity is a growing problem in the United States and worldwide, which seriously impacts people’s health. 

Let’s look at some stats on obesity below. 

  • In 2016, nearly 2 billion adults aged 18 and above were overweight, and over 650 million of them were obese. That means that in 2016, 40% of adults aged 18 and above were overweight or obese. (WHO)
  • Unwanted weight gain resulting in overweight and obesity has become the primary driver of the global increase in non-communicable diseases and is itself now regarded as a non-communicable disease. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  • Globally, around 13% of adults have obesity (11% of men and 15% of women) — more than 1 in 10. (WHO)
  • Over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kill more people than underweight. (easo.org)
  • World obesity rates have almost tripled since 1975. (WHO)
  • Overweight and obesity rates increase in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings, even though once this problem has been associated with high-income countries. (WHO)
  • The number of overweight children under five has increased by nearly 24% in Africa since 2000. (WHO)
  • In 2019, almost half of the children under five who were overweight or obese lived in Asia. (WHO)

Which Countries Have the Highest Prevalence of Obesity?

Source: worldpopulationreview.com

Nauru has the highest obesity rate in the world at 61%. It is a Pacific island nation with approximately 10,000 inhabitants. According to the WHO and the Government of Nauru, the import of Western food significantly reduced the country’s existing culture of gardening and fishing, leading to the economic downturn. Their diet mainly consists of rice, noodles, soda, and tin food. The biggest health concern among the people of Nauru is Type 2 diabetes. 

The highest obesity rates by country:

Nauru 61.00%
Cook Islands 55.90%
Palau 55.30%
Marshall Islands 52.90%
Tuvalu 51.60%
Niue 50.00%
Tonga 48.20%
Samoa 47.30%
Kiribati 46.00%
Micronesia 45.80%

The following countries have the lowest obesity rates:

Vietnam 2.10%
Bangladesh 3.60%
Timor Leste 3.80%
India 3.90%
Cambodia 3.90%
Nepal 4.10%
Japan 4.30%
Ethiopia 4.50%
South Korea 4.70%
Eritrea 5.00%

What Share of Adults in the U.S. Are Obese?

  • In the United States, 40% of adults are obese, and 18% of adults are severely obese. (Harvard T. H. Chan)
  • In total, over two-thirds of adults in the United States are obese or overweight. (healthline.com)
  • Overall, college-educated men and women had lower obesity prevalence compared to those with less education. (CDC)
  • According to the American Obesity Association study, in just four more years (2025), the percentage of obese Americans will reach 50%, and by 2030, that figure can jump to 60%. (PRNewswire
  • From 1999–2000 through 2017–2018, U.S. obesity prevalence rose from 30.5% to 42.4%. During the same period, the prevalence of extreme obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. (CDC)
  • There was no major difference in the prevalence of obesity between men and women by age group or overall. (CDC)

Obesity by Age, According to Data Published by the CDC in 2017–2018:

Age Women Men
20–39 years old 39.7% 40.3%
40–59 years old 43.3% 46.4%
60 years or older 43.3% 42.2%
  • Women had a higher prevalence of extreme obesity than men, 11.5% and 6.9%, respectively. (CDC)

Obesity Disproportionately Affects U.S. Minorities

  • The obesity rates for Hispanic, Mexican American, and non-Hispanic black populations are higher than those for Caucasians. (singlecare.com)
  • Approximately three out of four Latina or Hispanic women are overweight or obese. (singlecare.com)
  • Four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese. (singlecare.com)

Obesity in America by Race, According to Data Published by the CDC in 2017–2018:

Non-Hispanic Black Adults 49.6%
Hispanic Adults 44.8%
Non-Hispanic White Adults 42.2%
Non-Hispanic Asian Adults 17.4%

Which States Have the Highest Obesity Rates in America?

Source: CDC

  • The Southern states are considered the most obese states, five out of which have an obesity rate of over 35%. 

Mississippi 40.8%
West Virginia 39.7%
Alabama 36.1%
Arkansas 37.4%
Louisiana 35.9%

Which States Have the Lowest Obesity Rates in America?

  • Many states have managed to control their obesity rates. Currently, Colorado and Washington D.C. lead the way with only 23.8% of their population obese, followed by Hawaii, Massachusetts, and California, with rates below 27%. 
Colorado 23.8%
Washington, D.C. 23.8%
Hawaii 25.0%
Massachusetts 25.2%
California 26.2%

How Much Does Obesity Cost the American Healthcare System? 

  • Obesity currently costs the American health care system close to $150 billion a year. (CDC)

That is a staggering amount, and if obesity isn’t curbed, it will put a strain on the health care system. 

  • Obese individuals spend around $1,900 more on medical care than normal-weight people. (US News)

Obesity in America also impacts other costs that are harder to measure. Obese workers tend to miss more working days than healthy workers due to frequent health problems. Employers are also likely to pay higher worker’s compensation and insurance premiums for obese workers. Some studies have revealed that the wages of obese workers are lower than those of healthy workers. 

What Share of Children Are Overweight and/or Obese?

Childhood obesity is a pressing issue in the United States, which puts adolescents and children at risk of poor health later in life. Despite the threat, the prevalence of obesity among adolescents and children remains high all around the world. 

  • Obesity impacts one in five children in the United States. (CDC)
  • In 2017–2018, 19.2% of children in America between 2 and 19 years old were obese. That’s approximately 14.4 million children in the United States. (CDC) Out of these children, one in eight preschoolers was obese. (CDC

The only good news here is that obesity rates among preschoolers have been dropping recently.

  • Children who are obese or overweight are five times more likely to be overweight or obese adults than children of normal weight. (CDC)

That increases their risks of suffering from health complications and numerous other chronic diseases. 

  • In 2020, there were 39 million obese and overweight children under the age of 5. (WHO)

The percentage of obese children has risen over the years, and if no steps are taken, it could spell disaster for the next generation of adults. 

  • There were more than 340 million overweight and obese children and adolescents aged 5-19 in 2016. (WHO, CDC)

There are currently more obese children and adolescents aged between 5 and 10 than ever before. That’s why measures must be taken to reduce these numbers and improve children’s quality of life. 

Breaking the age groups down further:

Age Group Obesity Prevalence
2–5 year-olds: 13.4%
6–11-year-olds: 20.3%
12–19-year-olds: 21.2%

Most parents think that their children look adorable when they put on a little weight, but there is a real risk of letting that get out of control. As a parent, you must inculcate healthy eating habits in your kids and ensure they get enough physical exercise

Childhood Obesity Prevalence by Race, According to Data Published by the CDC in 2017–2018:

Age Group Obesity Prevalence
Hispanic Children 25.6%
Non-Hispanic Black Children 24.2%
Non-Hispanic White Children 16.1%
Non-Hispanic Asian Children 8.7%

Obesity and COVID-19 

  • CDC has reported that adults with diabetes and heart disease are at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications. (CDC)

Obesity-related conditions seem to make the effects of COVID-19 worse, and it is harder to intubate patients with obesity. Ever since the start of the pandemic, numerous studies have reported that most of the sickest COVID-19 patients are obese or overweight. 

  • Recent research involving around 400,000 patients found that obese people who contracted COVID-19 were 113% more likely than those with healthier weight to be hospitalized. Almost 75% were more likely to be admitted to the ICU and 48% more likely to die. (www.sciencemag.org)
  • About 60% of COVID deaths are attributable to obesity.
  • Obesity increases the risk of severe health complications from COVID-19. Those who are overweight may also be at heightened risk. (CDC)
  • Obesity may increase the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection by three times. (CDC)
  • Obesity is known to decrease lung capacity and reserve. It can make ventilation more difficult. (CDC)
  • A study of COVID-19 cases suggests that risks of hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, invasive mechanical ventilation, and death are higher with increasing BMI. (CDC)
  • The heightened risk for hospitalization or death was particularly pronounced in those under age 65. (CDC)
  • Over 900,000 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred in the United States between the beginning of the pandemic and November 18, 2020. It is estimated that 271,800 (30.2%) of those hospitalizations were attributed to obesity. (CDC)

What Are the Common Health Effects of Obesity?

Being obese can hinder a person’s quality of life and lead to serious health problems like heart disease, sleep apnea, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, and joint problems. Even though obesity isn’t a direct cause for any of these conditions, it increases the chances of suffering from health-related complications. 

This statistic points to the rising number of hospitalization cases in the United States when obese patients were admitted with serious health complications. 

  • No less than 350,000 people die from obesity in America every year. (Single Care)

There is a serious threat to your life if you suffer from obesity. The chances of obese individuals dying due to health complications are higher than those of healthy individuals. 

  • Some diseases may also cause obesity in individuals. (CDC)

There are times when your lifestyle choices are not to be blamed for your obesity. Some diseases may cause obesity, including Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and insulin resistance. 

  • 65% of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kill more people than underweight. (easo.org)

Around the world, obesity stands as one of the top five leading causes of death, contributing to nearly 3 million obesity deaths per year. The four other leading causes include high blood glucose, tobacco use, physical inactivity, and high blood pressure. 

Researchers have found that men with waist circumferences in the highest 10% of measurements were 20 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than others. Waist measurements can also help predict which people with low or normal weight may develop diabetes. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise now, but being obese or overweight increases your risk of suffering from dozens of health complications and diseases. These diseases include cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and stroke. 

Steps to Take to End Obesity

Wondering how to fight obesity? Due to the harmful impact of obesity on society and an individual’s health, households, communities, and governments need to take appropriate steps to end obesity. The food industry can play a major role here by promoting healthier diets by:

  • Ensuring processed foods have reduced amounts of sugar, fat, and salt content.
  • Making nutritious and healthy choices affordable and available to all consumers. 
  • Restricting the marketing of foods high in fats, salt, and sugars, especially the ads aimed at teenagers and children. 
  • Introducing regular physical activity in the house and workplace. 

What Can We Do as a Society to Help End Obesity?

Obesity and its related diseases are preventable, and the best way to do that is through supportive environments and communities. They hold a fundamental place in shaping people’s choices by incorporating regular physical activity and allowing easier access to healthier foods. 

At the societal level, individuals should be supported to make healthier choices, and there must be policies implemented to encourage regular physical activity. It’s also imperative to make healthier dietary choices easily accessible and affordable for everyone, especially the poorer individuals. For example, a special tax on sugar-sweetened beverages could be introduced. 

What Can You Do as an Individual?

Since obesity rates in America are high, we should understand that obesity isn’t going to be eradicated if individuals don’t take responsibility for their actions. They must incorporate a healthy diet into their daily life and make an effort to get regular physical activity. 

It may be hard, but you should try:

  • Limit the intake of food that is rich in sugars and fats.
  • Incorporate vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains into your diet. 
  • Engage in regular physical activity every day (60 minutes for children, 150 minutes for adults). 

How Can You Lose Weight?

Systemic change will take effect after some time, and so will weight loss for the long term. Besides the steps that everyone should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19, you should focus on losing weight during the lockdown. You can start by doing the following:

Follow a Healthy Diet 

You should incorporate plenty of vegetables and fruits into your diet, along with whole grains and lean protein. Getting the appropriate amount of calories is vital for your health to help prevent weight gain and aid in weight loss. 

Be Active

Practicing regular physical activity will allow you to sleep better, reduce anxiety, and feel fresh. It can also aid in preventing obesity when you combine it with calorie reduction. Moreover, physical activity increases a person’s chances of recovering from a severe illness and prevents diseases, as research suggests that it boosts immune function. 

Get Proper Sleep

When your body doesn’t get proper rest and sleep, the risk of you gaining weight and suffering from chronic diseases and depression increases. You will be at a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes if you don’t get enough sleep. So, a great tip to lose weight is to get proper rest and sleep. 

Final Verdict 

Obese and overweight people face a lot of health concerns and complications. Being obese or overweight increases a person’s risk for many underlying medical conditions and diseases. Unfortunately, obesity rates are rising in the United States and worldwide, and something must be done to stop this epidemic. 

Since obesity is preventable, following a healthy diet regimen combined with regular exercise can help you lose weight and maintain it. The obesity statistics we shared today should be an eye-opener for many people as the consequences of obesity will cripple your quality of life and take its toll on your overall health and lifespan.  


What Age Does Obesity Affect the Most?

Obesity in America is most common during middle age. Adults between 40 to 59 years old are at the highest risk of becoming obese. Currently, over 44% of these adults are obese. The age groups 60 and above and 2039 follow, with the current obesity rates of 42.8% and 40.0%, respectively. 

Who Is to Blame for Obesity in America?

A nationwide survey in the United States revealed that 80% of people ascribed primary blame for obesity to individuals. A further 59% blamed parents for the rise in obesity in America. Somewhat surprisingly, farmers, restaurants, grocers, manufacturers, and the government received less blame.

How to Combat Childhood Obesity?

Caregivers and parents should take steps to prevent and combat childhood obesity by encouraging daily physical activity, providing healthy meals and snacks, and educating children about nutrition. 

Increasing children’s physical activity helps prevent the health effects of obesity and maintain their weight. Healthy meals and snacks provide the necessary nutrition for growing bodies. Apart from that, nutrition education helps one develop an awareness of good nutrition and adopt healthy eating habits. 

What Percentage of Type 2 Diabetics Are Overweight?

According to The National Diabetes Statistics Report of 2020, 89% of adults aged 18 and above with Type 2 diabetes were overweight or obese in 2013–2016. Out of 89%:

  • 27.6% were overweight
  • 45.8% were obese
  • 15.5% were extremely obese

People with extreme obesity are at a greater risk of getting Type 2 diabetes than obese people with a lower BMI. Obese individuals with Type 2 diabetes were younger, had higher blood pressures, poorer glycaemic control, and worse lipid profiles than patients with BMI<30 kg/m².

What Percentage of Americans Are Overweight?

According to obesity statistics, over 40% of American adults aged 20 and above are considered obese today. Out of them, over 73% are overweight. Today, Americans are eating more calories than they did in 1970. 

The calorie imbalance is the leading cause of obesity and weight gain for the average American. When you consume more than you burn, your body stores the extra energy as body fat, which increases over time and causes obesity.