The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America

The State of Obesity (formerly known as the F as in Fat report series) is the 11th annual report produced by TFAH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with support by a grant from RWJF. This edition includes annual rates and rankings of adult obesity and obesity rate trends by ethnicity, region, age, gender, education and income.

Adult obesity rates remained high overall, increased in six states (Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming) in the past year, and did not decrease in any. Rates of obesity now exceed 35 percent for the first time in two states, are at or above 30 percent in 20 states and are not below 21 percent in any.  Mississippi and West Virginia tied for having the highest adult obesity rate in the United States at 35.1 percent, while Colorado had the lowest at 21.3 percent.

Findings reveal that significant geographic, income, racial, and ethnic disparities persist, with obesity rates highest in the South and among Blacks, Latinos and lower-income, less-educated Americans. The report also found that more than one in ten children become obese as early as ages 2 to 5.

Other key findings from The State of Obesity include:

After decades of rising obesity rates among adults, the rate of increase is beginning to slow, but rates remain far too high and disparities persist.   

In 2005, the obesity rate increased in every state but one; this past year, only six states experienced an increase. In last year’s report, only one state, Arkansas, experienced an increase in its adult obesity rate.

Obesity rates remain higher among Black and Latino communities than among Whites:

  • Adult obesity rates for Blacks are at or above 40 percent in 11 states, 35 percent in 29 states and 30 percent in 41 states.
  • Rates of adult obesity among Latinos exceeded 35 percent in five states and 30 percent in 23 states.
  • Among Whites, adult obesity rates topped 30 percent in 10 states.

Nine out of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South.

Baby Boomers (45-to 64-year-olds)* have the highest obesity rates of any age group – topping 35 percent in 17 states and 30 percent in 41 states.

More than 33 percent of adults 18 and older who earn less than $15,000 per year are obese, compared with 25.4 percent who earn at least $50,000 per year.

More than 6 percent of adults are severely** obese; the number of severely obese adults has quadrupled in the past 30 years.

The national childhood obesity rate has leveled off, and rates have declined in some places and among some groups, but disparities persist and severe obesity may be on the rise. As of 2011-2012:

  • Nearly one out of three children and teens ages 2 to 19 is overweight or obese, and national obesity rates among this age group have remained stable for 10 years.
  • More than 1 in 10 children become obese between the ages of 2 to 5; and 5 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds are severely obese.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities emerge in childhood (ages 2-19):  The obesity rates are 22.4 percent among Hispanics, 20.2 percent among Blacks and 14.1 percent among Whites. Between 2008 and 2011, 18 states and one U.S. territory experienced a decline in obesity rates among preschoolers from low-income families.

The State of Obesity reviews existing policies and issues high-priority recommendations for making affordable healthy foods and safe places for physical activity available to all Americans, such as focusing on healthy food financing, improving nutrition and activity in schools and child care settings, limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids, and improving the built environment to support increased physical activity.  In addition, for this year’s report, TFAH and RWJF partnered with the NAACP, Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children, and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to identify more effective strategies for implementing obesity-prevention policies in Black and Latino communities.

Recommendations, which were based on a series of in-depth interviews with public health experts in Black and Latino communities around the country, included:

  • Expanding access to affordable healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity by increasing resources for programs, connecting obesity-prevention initiatives with other ongoing community programs, and other approaches;
  • Providing education and addressing cultural differences to both improve people’s knowledge about nutrition and physical activity and make initiatives more relevant to their daily lives; and
  • Making sustainability, community input, involvement and shared leadership top priorities of obesity-prevention initiatives from the outset.

The State of Obesity (formerly known as the F as in Fat report series) is the 11th annual report produced by TFAH and RWJF, with support by a grant from RWJF. The full report, with state rankings in all categories and new interactive maps, is available at Follow the conversation at #StateofObesity.

* (45-64 Year Olds, includes most Baby Boomers, who range from 49-67 year olds)

Adult obesity = Body Mass Index of 30 or more; **Severe obesity in adults = BMI of 40 or more. 

Childhood obesity = BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of same age/sex; Severe obesity in children = BMI greater than 120 percent of 95th percentile for children of same age/sex