Severe Obesity: Still Growing Rapidly in the U.S.

October 21, 2012 — Despite public health campaigns urging personal and national action and constant headlines about the obesity epidemic , severe obesity is still increasing in the United States. A new study has found that the number of Americans with severe obesity rose from 3.9% of the population to 6.6%, an increase of about 70 percent in the past decade. The researchers point out that the increase has slowed down in more recent years, but the bad news is that people with severe obesity remain the fastest-growing segment of obese Americans, and now number about 15 million adults.

More than one-third of U.S. adults have obesity, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. A study by the RAND Corporation found that between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of Americans with severe obesity, that is being at least 100 pounds overweight, rose from about 4 percent to almost 7 percent. The fact that severe obesity is still rising fast is significant as people with severe obesity have the highest healthcare costs, about double those of normal-weight Americans. People with a BMI of 40 or higher are at high risk of conditions such as diabetes, severe arthritis, and heart disease, among other health conditions. Experts estimate that obesity, in general, results in an additional $190 billion a year in U.S. healthcare costs, or one-fifth of all healthcare spending.

The findings, reported in the International Journal of Obesity, are based on data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), an annual survey conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control. The BRFSS is the world’s largest annual telephone survey and tracks health risks in the United States. More than 3 million respondents were included in the analysis for the last decade.

The study also found the rate of severe obesity was 50 percent higher among women than men, and twice as high among black Americans as among white and Hispanic adults. Significantly, the increases were larger among people younger than 40 compared with older adults.

Read the Reuters news article about this study here.