Kevin Buhrer, Jonny Moon, Thomas Musser

Throughout the world obesity has become an epidemic. Obesity is a health issue that causes at least 2.8 million deaths world wide each year due to overweight and obesity. Obesity was once associated with high income countries, but now many low and middle income countries are now battling the epidemic according to the World Health Organization.

The United States has been a high income and developed country for a significant period of time. The U.S. government has been collecting weight statistics nationally since the 1960s and state-by-state since the 1990s. The statistics data are made readily available to the public. These facts make the U.S. an excellent candidate to examine overtime.

"Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally"
- World Health Organization (WHO)

Obesity in the United States has increased at an alarming rate. Currently, more than 2 in 3 adults are considered overweight or obese. Obesity can also lead to a myriad of health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer and other non-communicable diseases which cost the US $147 billion in 2008. Obesity affects people of all ages and demographics. It is “associated with poorer mental health outcomes, reduced quality of life, and the leading causes of death in the U.S.” [2]

Weight management is an issue that everyone has to deal with, and a majority of individuals in the United States have room for improvement. The consumption of less calories, less saturated fat, and more physical activity can all contribute to a healthier America.

The goal of this website is to raise awareness of seriousness of obesity. By creating a place where people can clearly see how the prevalence of obesity has changed over time, and what other factors are strongly associated with it. The hope is that this project will reveal insightful and meaningful information that will lead to change for individuals and possibly for new policy changes in organizations.

In the sections below you first explore obesity rate and trends by US State with an emphasis on geography and year-by-year, then you will dive deeper by analysing relationships among a large number of factors, and finally tools will be presented to help you understand the issue personally so that you can address your own concerns or those of someone you know.

2.8 Million Deaths
World wide deaths each year due to Overweight and Obesity[1]
7x Increase
in American Extreme Obesity since 1960
3x Increase
in American Obesity since 1960
$242 Billion
spent on obesity health care in the US in 2012

Average American Body Shape By Decade

Weight Distribution of Americans

6.6% Extremely Obese (BMI>=40)
35.3% Obese (BMI >= 30)
33.3% Overweight (25 <= BMI < 30)
24.8% Others (BMI < 25)


Obesity Trends across US States

Overweight rates have remained largely unchanged since the 1960s hovering at about one-third of the population. It is clear that obesity in America has increased a staggering amount over recent decades in the US. This is a cause for great concern.

This section is focused on providing tools that allow for comparison states and for analyzing rate changes for specific states over the years.

Not all states have similar rates of obesity in fact there is significant disparity: in 2014, Colorado, the least obese state, had a rate of 21.3% and Arkansas, the most obese state had a rate of 35.9%. The national average in 2014 was 29.23%. The states also tend to fluctuate somewhat in ordering. Colorado has been consistently the lowest or second lowest across the our data set, but Arkansas did not enter the top five worst states until 2012.

The obesity rates have been going up in general in every state year over year, but some states have shown decreases at times and the frequency in which states show decreases has become more often. Though the decreases have been minor these small victories may indicate that the fight in obesity is having some effect. One significant drop occurred in 2004; when compared with 2003 data over half of the states had no increase or had a decrease.

There appears to be some regional groupings of rates. For example the South appears to out pace other areas of the country. Why? You can explore some of the factors that may explain this in a later section.

2004 Obesity Rate Drop
In 2004 rates dropped (compared to 2003) in more states than any other time period in our data set. The national average still had a minor increase.
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2011: All states over 20%
In 2011, all states were over 20% obesity rate. The last hold out, Colorado, increased from 19.8% in 2010 to 20.7% in 2011.
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Rates over Time
Watch as rates over increase across the country. Pay special attention to regional patterns such as in the South. (Auto-plays below.)
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The chart below you can easily compare the states to each other within a given year. Hover over a specific state and you can examine the state's trend over time.




Hover over the diagram to explore details.

Select States


Obesity Factors

The section above drives home the main point: the obesity rates in America vary significantly by regional grouping. What other regional circumstances contribute to obesity? Aside from genetics and medical problems which are difficult to measure at the state level, obesity is associated with the following risk factors: inactivity, unhealthy diet, and socioeconomic status.

Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System we are able to explore the relationships between obesity risk factors and obesity rates. Understanding which risk factors are strongly associated with obesity rates can help policy makers implement more effective programs such as the Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule:

The factors from the survey that we found most strongly associated with obesity were:

  • Daily soda consumption
  • People consuming at least one piece of fruit daily (fruit consumption)
  • Adults who spent no time exercising (leisure activity)
  • Percentage of people watching 3 or more hours of TV daily
  • Low income (bottom quintile of income)

The fruit consumption association was a little unexpected but not surprising since many fruits contain high levels of sugar.

The percentage of adults meeting the recommended Aerobic and Muscles Strengthening guideline (weight activity) was most negatively associated with obesity (the more people exercising in each state the lower the obesity rates). Explore the factors for yourself and see which factors have the strongest association with obesity.

States that sit more, weigh more.
States with the highest proportions of adults who engage in no physical activity during their leisure time have the highest rates of obesity.
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Put Down the Soda
States with the highest soda consumption had the most prevalent rates of obesity. This is the strongest positive association in this dataset.
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Less money = More Weight
When looking at the bottom 20% of income: states with lower incomes have higher rates of obesity.

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Individual Health

We each have a personal role in the fight against obesity. Regardless of the programs or laws that may be placed to help guide people to be healthier, we each are ultimately responsible for maintaining a healthy weight.

"Obesity affects every aspect of a people's lives, from health to relationships."
- Jane Velez-Mitchell, Television Journalist

Obesity has more consequences than those that are related to the physical body. Studies indicate that obesity may lead to the following issues: [3][4]

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low quality of life
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor academic success
  • Fewer friends
  • Lower employment
  • Low self-image
  • Discrimination
  • Strained relationships

The good news is that whether you are healthy or overweight, there are steps you can take to maintain or reduce your weight to establish a long-lasting healthy lifestyle. Studies have shown that even losing a little weight can have great impact on your health.

Enter your height and weight below to see your personal health report.

The larger American
From about 1960 to 2000, females ages 20 - 74 increased in BMI from 24.9 to 28.2. This has also raised numerous health risks.

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Every pound counts
Losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight can produce health benefits in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.[5]

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Middle Age Weight Gain
Americans gain about 1-2 pounds each year during their middle ages. See how an averge man in his 20s will change by his 40s if he gains about 1 pound each year.[6]
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Report for age weighing lbs
Body Fat %
Est. Daily Calories
To Be Healthy BMI
To Be Healthy BMI
To Be Healthy BMI
Suggested Daily Calories
Age Group Percentile
Exercise Recommendations

What can you do?

There are a lot of different opinions/programs about how to lose and maintain a healthy weight. At the core of them all, there is one core principle. As the CDC instructs on their website:

When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight for a lifetime, the bottom line is – calories count! Weight management is all about balance—balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses or "burns off."

The best way to effectively lose weight and keep it off is by reducing the number of calories you eat, and increase the number you burn through physical activity. In addition, physical activity provides many health-promoting benefits other than just consuming calories, such as improved mental-health, stronger bones and muscles, improved vitality, and a longer life.[7]

Choose a snack to see how long it will take to burn it off doing various activities.

Maintaining Weight

Losing Weight

Gaining Weight

Less Calories More Calories More Exercise Less Exercise Calories Out Calories In
Drag the circles up and down to see how eating less or exercising more affects your weight.
To eat or not to eat?
One of the best ways to lose weight is to eat less. For example, you could eat a Snickers, but would you eat it if you knew you had to run between 1 and 2 miles to burn it off?

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Changing your daily soda to a glass water can make a big difference. A soda a day is about 55,000 calories in a year. It would take around 20 marathons to burn that off.

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Snack Time
Although not commonly talked about, celery is a super-healthy snack. It helps with digestion, reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, reduces bad cholesterol, and has many other benefits. Best part of all, you can eat it all you want, guilt free.[8]
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Calories Increasing
Calculations based on your weight selection above of lbs.


Obesity is a major problem for many in the United States and throughout the world. It is important for governments and organizations to continue the fight against obesity, but individuals must take action in their own lives. Through physical activity and informed diet decisions improvements can be made person by person and family by family. Using tools such as the ones given above (BMI and snack calculators) individuals can make better, healthier choices.

Further Reading

This site serves as a brief introduction to the concerns related to obesity in America with primary focus on the average adult. Some topics may be of interest:
(1) There are differences in obesity rates for between men and women that are interesting and worth investigation (i.e. Women have lower rates of obesity overall, but make up a higher percent of the extreme obesity population).
(2) Measuring obesity and addressing obesity in children is different than in adults. Childhood obesity is problem bigger than ever before.
(3) Countries around the world have obesity issues and America's problem is not the worst.