Special Report

States With the Largest Increase in Obesity Since 2010

Obesity in the U.S. is an epidemic that keeps getting worse. The adult obesity rate in the country is currently 42.4%, the highest ever recorded, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just two decades ago, the share of adults who were considered obese — having a body mass index of 30 or greater — was 30.5%. In 2010, the adult obesity rate was 35.7%.

Though obesity rates among adults have increased in every state, how much they increased varies considerably. To determine the states with the highest increase in adult obesity rate since 2010, 24/7 Tempo reviewed 2010 and 2021 obesity data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program.

Diet and exercise have often been cited as key factors in maintaining a healthy weight. But the National Institutes of Health has pointed to lack of physical activity as a widespread misconception about how much it is contributing to obesity.

In fact, physical activity levels since 2010 have actually increased in all but 13 states. Most of the states with the largest increase in sedentary lifestyle among adults since 2010 are among the states with the smallest increase in adult obesity.

There is some evidence that, at least partially, bigger portions have been the bigger contributor to the increase in obesity prevalence. Many commonly available foods exceed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration standard portions.

Larger sizes of meals mean more calories, leading to energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended — even when exercising more. The result of this imbalance is often the accumulation of unhealthy amounts of body fat.

Diet choices have also changed over the last few decades, also contributing to the worsening of the obesity epidemic in the U.S. Consuming more calories a day is in part due to a boom in meat consumption since the 1950s, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Consumption of added fats and grain has also skyrocketed.

The intake of added sugars has also increased, which can contribute to numerous health problems, including weight gain and obesity. The biggest sources of added sugars in people’s diets are sugar-sweetened drinks, desserts, and sweet snacks.

Rampant misinformation about obesity and nutrition, as well as about the true causes of the condition, play a role in driving up the rate of this common health problem. Here are “healthy” foods that are actually ruining your diet.

Click here for the states with the largest increase in obesity since 2010

Methodology

To determine the states with the highest increase in adult obesity rate since 2010, 24/7 Tempo reviewed 2010 and 2021 obesity data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program.

The obesity rates — the share of adult residents who report a body mass index of 30 or greater — came from the 2010 and 2021 CHR reports.

We also considered other measures of health outcomes and health factors and how they have changed since 2010. Health factors reviewed included measures of healthy behavior such as exercise, self-reported overall health, and socioeconomic factors such as annual household income. Data for physical activity and diabetes were compared from the 2011 and 2021 CHR reports. Data was not available for 2010.

Data on the shares of adults in poor or fair health in 2010 and in 2021 also came from the CHR.

Population figures as well as median household income came from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 2010 and 2019 1-Year Estimates.