According to a report from Trust for America’s Health, the U.S. obesity rate for adults reached 42.4% in 2020, the highest ever recorded, and is based on data from the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The report notes that the national obesity rate has increased by 26% since 2008.
Food insecurity due to economic instability caused by the pandemic puts people at higher risk for obesity, often because they are consuming a lower quality diet. It is clear that COVID disproportionately affects racial/ethnic minorities, increasing the likelihood that they will be impacted by obesity. Another consideration is that those who are obese face more dire consequences of a COVID infection, including hospitalization and death. All of these concerns are exacerbated by socioeconomic factors such as poverty, unemployment and discrimination. In fact, data show that Black adults have the highest level of adult obesity at 49.6%, driven largely by obesity among Black women at 56.9%. Latinx adults have an obesity rate of 44.8%, compared to an obesity rate of 42.2% among White adults. Asian adults have the lowest obesity rate at 17.4%.
Obesity has serious health consequences such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is estimated to increase healthcare spending by $149 billion annually, about half of which is paid by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The report asserts that, in spite of the rise in obesity, the U.S. has failed to create a coordinated and comprehensive response to the epidemic.
The report offers recommendations on how best to address the obesity crisis grounded in two principles:
- the need for a multi-sector, multi-disciplinary approach;
- a focus on those population groups that are disproportionately impacted by obesity.
The report offers five key recommendations for federal, state and local governments to address the obesity crisis, and includes a special section on food insecurity and its relationship to obesity. The appendix covers 32 indicators spanning state-level conditions, policies, and performance measures across five themes.