America’s Ever-Expanding Waistline: Mapping Obesity Gains Across The States

In most states, the obesity rate has more than tripled since 1990.

By any measure, America has seen a staggering explosion in obesity in the last 25 years. In most states, the obesity rate has more than tripled. Just 7% of people in Colorado, for instance, were obese in 1990. Now, 21% of the population is. Mississippi had an obesity rate of 15% in 1990. Now it’s 35.5%.


The figures come from a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health. And it doesn’t offer a lot of good news. Obesity, defined as having a Body Mass Index of at least 30, among adults is still going up and up. Three states–Arkansas, West Virginia, and Mississippi–now have rates above 35% of population, while 22 states have rates above 30%. In total, 35% of American adults are obese, while a shocking 67% are obese or overweight (BMI of at least 25).

The groups offer a nice interactive map of obesity trends here. Hover over a state to see rates change over time, then click for more information. The states in purple and red have the highest rates; the ones in yellow, green and blue, the least. The 10 most obese states are all in the South and Midwest. Colorado, the District of Columbia, and Hawaii have the fewest obese people.

Why does it matter if people are overweight? Because obesity is linked with all sorts of medical problems, not to mention spiraling health care costs. “If we fail to change the course of the nation’s obesity epidemic, the current generation of young people may be the first in American history to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents,” the report points out.

The news on childhood obesity is slightly better. Rates for kids age 2 to 5 years old fell 43% in the last decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year. But obesity remains as prevalent among other age groups. Overall, almost 17% of those 2 to 19 years old are obese, while 32% are either obese or overweight.

Despite everything that’s said about diet and exercise these days, it doesn’t seem to be having much effect, at least on a solid part of the U.S. population.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.