Obesity is a major health concern in the United States, impacting nearly one in three adults. In the 30 years that America’s Health Rankings has been compiling public health information, the prevalence of obesity climbed by more than 170 percent. In 1990, 11.6 percent of American adults were obese. Today, that percentage has risen to 31.3 percent. In 2018 alone, obesity increased by 5 percent, the largest year-over-year increase since 2014.
But obesity doesn’t just affect adults – it can impact individuals at an early age and even into our senior years. That’s why America’s Health Rankings features data on obesity beginning with children aged 10 to 17 years and spans all the way through Americans 65 and older. Better understanding the challenges related to obesity across ages can help policymakers, public health officials and community leaders tailor interventions to address the growing problem.
America’s Health Rankings finds that 31.2 percent of children aged 10 to 17 years are overweight or obese, which is often associated with long-term physical, social and psychological health issues among children and adolescents. It also looks at obesity among women aged 18 to 44 and finds that more than one-quarter (26.7 percent) have obesity. When it comes to those aged 65 and older, 28.5 percent of seniors have obesity – the leading cause of early death among this population.
Fortunately, community leaders are actively implementing solutions to address the obesity epidemic at all ages. Recently, America’s Health Rankings convened a group of public health advocates who are actively working to curb obesity in Pennsylvania. During their conversation, participants discussed several programs and initiatives that are tackling obesity in communities across the state.
Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health in Pennsylvania, shared that the state programs to encourage physical activity have recently been awarded a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund more programming.
We have been awarded a physical activity and nutrition grant from the CDC to improve nutrition and increase opportunities for safe and accessible physical activity in Pennsylvania. – Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Levine noted that the grant will also help her department enhance outreach of the Pennsylvania Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care tool to help curb obesity.
Programs in other parts of the country are also addressing the root causes of obesity. For example, the Recipe for Success Foundation launched in 2005 with a mission to change the way children understand, appreciate and eat their food by educating and mobilizing the community to provide healthier diets for children. The Foundation, based in Houston, Texas, worked with leading nutrition experts to translate research on childhood obesity into action and develop activities that make healthy eating fun.
While a higher portion of Americans now have obesity than ever before, America’s Health Rankings is encouraged by the outstanding work organizations across the country are doing to promote healthy eating and physical activity. However, obesity continues to be a identified as a challenge in America’s Health Rankings reports, and more work is still needed to meet the challenge of obesity.

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