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The state of obesity in America

February 28, 2014

    Juliette Mullin, Editor

    Obesity made big headlines this week when CDC announced a 43% decline in the obesity rate for young children in a JAMA report. The finding is undoubtedly one to celebrate, especially given recent research suggesting that a person's "weight fate" may be set by age five.

    But it's important to keep sight of the big picture: Overall, obesity rates have remained stagnant—for children and adults alike.

    According to the JAMA report, which included National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2003 to 2012, obesity rates have declined for only two small age groups:

    • Children ages 2 to 6: The obesity rate dropped from 14% in 2003-2004 to 8% in 2011-2012.
    • Children ages 6 to 11: The obesity rate dropped from 19% in 2003-2004 to 18% in 2011-2012.

    As a group, neither children nor adults saw a decline—a conclusion that the JAMA report makes very clear.

    In fact, when considering all children between ages two to 19, the obesity rate did not significantly change from 2003 to 2012. And more alarmingly, 35% of adults were obese in 2012, up from 32% in 2003. That increase, as you can see in the graph above, was mostly concentrated in Americans over age 59.

    Overall, the report concludes, "Obesity remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance."

    Now, some states are clearly doing a better job than others at keeping down obesity rates. Here's the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's look at the obesity rate in each state in 2012:

    Although the report found that "there has been some evidence that the rates have not been climbing as rapidly" since 2005, RWJF researchers also concluded that the obesity rate was still higher than 30% in 13 states. Moreover, no state had an obesity rate below 20%.

    What's worse, RWJF paints a gloomy picture for the future. It estimates that, if the country continues on its current path, the national obesity rate could reach 50% by 2030.

    So don't let the good news about toddler obesity rates fool you. It's promising news, but it's far from "mission accomplished."

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