More Health:

October 04, 2023

America's climbing obesity rates underscore the poor state of our health

The condition increases the risk of several deadly illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Obesity Rates U.S. Ehimetalor Unuabona/

CDC data suggests 43% of American are obese, and 22 states now have obesity rates above 35%. That's up from 19 in 2021.

As an advocate for men’s health, I strive to present a comprehensive look at the benefits of healthy living, the challenge of doing so, and the larger context of American health.

I love sharing inspiring stories of men like Troy Singleton, who pledged to drop 50 pounds when he turned 50 – and did it, and Dr. Christopher Derivaux, a surgeon who enlisted in the U.S. Army at 53. When the stories extend to mental health and demonstrate a cultural shift away from outdated views on masculinity within uber-masculine occupations, I find hope for real change. Such was the case with John Fetterman and Eagles players Brian Dawkins, Malcom Jenkins, and Lane Johnson, all of whom courageously revealed their battles with mental health and depression.

To give men the tools for living healthy, I regularly highlight science-based strategies that build on diet and exercise and extend to a wide range of tactics that include the value of sleep, hydration and the incredible benefits associated with supportive relationships, particularly the enormous role that women play in men’s health.

Now, if you’re guessing that this recap of the positive-leaning dimensions of my advocacy is a conscious effort to provide some context for what I’m about to say, well, you’re right. That’s because my approach is grounded in tough love, and that includes an eye on the latest research and what it means for those looking to live healthy. Tracking the context of American health – good and bad – is central to the equation. Men, and women for that matter, need to know how Americans are trending when it comes to their health.

Most recently, the answer is not good.

Obesity on the rise

Just last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing obesity continues to rise throughout the country. In 22 states, the “adult obesity prevalence” is at or above 35%. This compares to 19 states in 2021. In the tristate region, the data showed Delaware with the highest obesity prevalence, at 37.9%, Pennsylvania at 33.4% and New Jersey at 29.1%. The CDC defines obesity as having a body mass index of 30 or above.

CDC data suggests that 43% of Americans are obese, 10% are morbidly obese (a BMI at or above 40) and 31% are overweight. The bottom line is more than 70% of Americans are either obese or overweight – and the numbers seem to be climbing.

Looking deeper at the data, Black and Latino adults have the highest obesity rates, at 49.9% and 45.6%, respectively. Geographically, the Midwest (35.8%) and South (35.6%) have the highest rates, followed by the Northeast (30.5%), and the West (29.5%).

Men and women have similar obesity rates, CDC data show. However, morbid obesity is higher in women than men (11.5% vs. 6.9%) Yet, about 34% of men are classified as overweight (a BMI between 25 and 29.9), with only 28% of women falling in this bracket.

Prior CDC analyses of obesity between men and women by age showed insignificant differences. Among men, the prevalence of obesity was 40.3% for those ages 20–39, 46.4% for those 40–59, and 42.2% for those 60 and older. Among women, the prevalence of obesity was 39.7% among those 20–39, 43.3% among those 40–59, and 43.3% among those 60 and older.

Perhaps even more alarming is the growth of obesity in people ages 22 to 44 and the increasing obesity rates among children and adolescents. Nearly 20% of U.S. children ages 2-19 have obesity, according tothe National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The risks and causes of obesity 

According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health obesity “increases the risk of several debilitating and deadly diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.” Experts believe that these risks are a product of many factors including the extra pounds and complex changes in hormones and metabolism.

Obesity can also impact one’s quality and length of life and increase health care costs. And it has been tied to mental health disorders.

The National Institutes of Health outline the many factors that contribute to being overweight and obese. These include genetics, types and amounts of food and drinks consumed, physical activity levels, time spent on sedentary behaviors like watching TV or texting, sleep habits, medical conditions or medicines, and where and how people live, including their access to healthy foods and safe places to be active.

The Cleveland Clinic defines obesity as a disease resulting from a number of factors where an “abnormal or excess accumulation of fat causes harm to one’s health” and not simply a “lifestyle disorder” tied to diet and exercise. However, the health system also acknowledges that the underlying causes of obesity include an imbalance between food and activity and recommends controlled portion sizes and regular exercise.

Fighting obesity

There has been a tidal wave of debate concerning new anti-obesity drugs, like Ozempic, that have been found to result in weight loss despite being developed to treat type 2 diabetes. According to a review from Harvard University, though some experts see great promise in the new drugs, others argue that “diet- and lifestyle-based approaches should be at the forefront of obesity prevention and treatment.” And still others note that responses like bariatric surgery are also part of the medical mix of considerations.

For those inclined to pursue lifestyle strategies, the American Medical Association recommends creating small and measurable goals when changing eating habits, eating a variety of foods from different food groups, drinking plenty of water, and maintaining aerobic and muscle-building exercise routines.

While there are several policy and cultural challenges to bringing obesity under control, I’ll save those for another day. Start your individual pathway to a healthy lifestyle with a check on your BMI. All you need to do is plug in your height and weight. It’s a great first step to creating your own story of health and happiness.

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.

Follow us

Health Videos