As of 2016, nearly 40% of American adults and 19% of American children and teenagers were obese. This is the highest rate of obesity in the whole of our nation’s history, and the trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing. In fact, it may be increasing.
Since the early 1980’s we’ve been steadily gaining weight. But between 2000 and 2016 the obesity rate rose by a shocking 30% overall, in spite of government efforts to improve our health and get us to lose weight. A new government report, published in 2017, really brought home the scope of the problem.
In 2015-2016, white adults in America had an obesity rate of 37.8%. Hispanic adults topped the scales at 47%, closely followed by black adults with a 46.8% rate of obesity. Asian adults had the lowest incidence of obesity at only 12.7%. However, even that number—low in comparison to the other groups—is chilling when we consider that in 1990, during the early years of the obesity epidemic, the overall obesity rate was only 11.1%.
To put it in perspective:
In 1990, not a single state had an obesity rate higher than 15% and ten had rates below 10%.
In 2000, not a single state had an obesity rate lower than 10%, and 23 had a rate between 20% and 24%.
By 2010, no state had an obesity rate below 20%. Thirty-six had a rate of 25% or more, and 12 had a rate of more than 30%. (Source: CDC)
Today, the only states with an obesity rate below 20-25.9% are Colorado, Massachusetts, and Hawaii. As a nation we’re gaining weight at a shocking rate.
Perhaps most concerning is the incidence of obesity among children and teenagers. As with adults, Hispanic and black youth had the highest obesity rates at 25.8% and 22% respectively. White youth were still considerably slimmer than their elders, with a rate of 14%, but Asian youth were almost as likely to be obese as their adult counterparts—11% as opposed to the 12.7% adult rate. All in all, the obesity rate in children and teenagers today is ten times higher than it was 40 years ago.
This doesn’t bode well for the future. Most of these obese children and teenagers will go on to be obese adults, and if things continue as they are, many more will become obese as adults. What can we do?
Public policy changes thus far have been a dismal failure. In spite of government initiatives intended to combat the problem, the American population has become heavier and heavier. Perhaps the solution isn’t yet another round of government-backed eating guidelines or new rules for schools. What is needed is a change in behaviors leading to obesity, and behavioral change simply can’t be legislated. Perhaps instead of looking once again to government to enforce social change, we need to tackle the problem at its roots: in our own homes, as families and small groups, beginning with our diets.