State of Obesity 2020: Better Policies for a Healthier America Congressional Briefing


November 19, 2020 • Briefing

For the first time since data has been tracked, the U.S adult obesity rate passed 40 percent – 42.4 percent of U.S. adults have obesity. In 2019, 12 U.S. states (AL, AR, IN, KS, KY, LA, MI, MS, OK, SC, TN and WV) had adult obesity rates at or above 35 percent, up from zero states above the 35 percent mark as recently as 2012. In 2020, these statistics take on new significance: recent studies have shown that people with obesity who get COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized and end up in intensive care than individuals without obesity.

Our panel of experts covered the latest national obesity rates and trends, highlighting promising approaches that states and localities have undertaken to ensure healthy communities. In addition, they offered policy recommendations that can incorporate innovative approaches to help all Americans lead healthier lives.



  • Captain Heidi Blanck, PhD, MS, Branch Chief, Chronic Disease Nutrition/Obesity, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)
    Captain (CAPT) Heidi Blanck, PhD has over 20 years of CDC experience as a United States Public Health Service Officer and has authored over 140 epidemiologic papers and reports in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, obesity, and environmental exposures. As branch chief of the Obesity Prevention and Control Branch in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, CAPT Blanck oversees CDC’s monitoring of state obesity prevalence and key nutrition and physical activity behavioral and systems supports to help ensure all have a fair chance at health. Under her leadership, the Branch also develops guidelines and conducts applied research with partners in key areas including early care and education (ECE), food service, nutrition security, and pediatric obesity care. She led the creation of CDC’s Childhood Obesity Research Demonstrations (CORD) and the Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network ( CAPT Blanck is a member of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research, DHHS Eating Disorders Workgroup, and National Academies Roundtable on Obesity Solutions. CAPT Blanck received her MS from the University of Michigan and PhD from Emory University.
  • Dr. Sara Bleich, PhD, Professor of Public Health Policy, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
    Sara Bleich is a Professor of Public Health Policy at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health in the Department of Health Policy and Management. She is also the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a member of the faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Her research provides evidence to support policies to prevent obesity and diet-related diseases, particularly among populations at higher risk. Sara is the past recipient of several awards including one for excellence in public interest communication. Sara was recently appointed as a White House Fellow (2015-2016) where she was a Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative. She is currently an appointed member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Roundtable on Obesity Solutions. She holds degrees from Columbia (BA, Psychology) and Harvard (PhD, Health Policy).
  • Nora Gonzales, Community Health Worker/East Region Lead, San Antonio, TX
    Nora Gonzales is a certified Community Health Worker. In her current role, Nora works as a lead CHW for the City of San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department, Healthy Neighborhoods program. Using the principles of Asset Based Community Development, she works to discover assets in communities that are experiencing high health disparities to create resident driven solutions that improve health outcomes. Most recently, she’s worked on the Healthy Corner Store Initiative to improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables for areas of high need, the Pecan Valley teaching garden, and the construction of an inclusive playground, a place where children of all abilities can play together.


  • Dara Lieberman, MPP, Director of Government Relations, Trust for America’s Health