Obesity among adults in the U.S. continues to rise at an alarming rate, a new report finds.

“The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” released in September by Trust for America’s Health, reveals that at least 35% of the population in 22 states is obese. Only a decade ago, no U.S. state had obesity rates that high.Man and woman smile as they do stretching exercises

Nearly 42% of the U.S. population is obese, the report says, an increase over two decades from 30.5%. Disadvantaged groups have the highest rates. In 2022, half of Black adults and 45.6% of Hispanic adults were obese. People in rural communities were more often obese than people in urban and suburban communities.

Among people ages 2-19, almost 20% were obese, representing a three-fold increase since the 1970s.

For the report, researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report includes a special section showing U.S. obesity trends over the last two decades.

The report also offers a state-by-state analysis of obesity rates. In 2022, states with the highest obesity rates were West Virginia, Louisiana and Oklahoma, with about 40% of the adult population obese. The lowest obesity rates are in Colorado, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, the latter having the fewest with an obesity adult population of 24.3%.

Inaccessibility to healthier food options and opportunities for physical activity are exacerbating this crisis, said Nadine Gracia, M.D., MSCE, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, in a news release.

“In order to stem the decades-long trend of increasing obesity rates, we have to acknowledge that the obesity crisis is rooted in economic, health and environmental inequities,” Gracia said. “Ensuring all people and communities have equitable opportunity and access to healthy food and physical activity is fundamental to addressing this crisis.”

Researchers site issues such as structural racism, food insecurity and poverty as barriers, particularly for adults of color living in rural areas.

Researchers recommend reducing food insecurity and making nutritious food more accessible. This includes expanding eligibility for meal programs, as well as supporting federal food assistance such as through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

In addition, efforts are needed to change marketing and pricing practices regarding unhealthy food and drinks. This might include raising taxes on unhealthy products and regulating the marketing, especially in disadvantaged communities. Stressing physical activity, expanding access to health insurance, and improving the availability of various social and obesity-related services are other recommendations.

Obesity is a society-wide, population-level issue associated with multiple chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, liver disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

To learn more, read the full report.

Photo by Laflor, courtesy iStockphoto