June 15, 2013
Is the epidemic slowing?

Obesity remains a significant health problem in the United States, affecting more than one in three adults and nearly 17 percent of children. Not only does obesity have the potential to lead to other physical problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, but it is a major factor in rising health care costs, with the annual bill for treating obesity-related illnesses climbing more than 60 percent over the past decade. A number of states and localities are taking steps to fight obesity, such as including walking and biking paths in transportation plans and requiring restaurants to post nutrition information. But public-health advocates argue that a more comprehensive approach is needed. Meanwhile, while healthier eating is one anti-obesity strategy, increasing numbers of adults are choosing surgical interventions for chronic obesity.

A woman drinks from a 26-ounce Caramel Frappuccino at a Starbucks outlet in New York City on March 11, 2013. (AFP/Getty Images/Timothy A. Clary) A woman drinks from a 26-ounce Caramel Frappuccino at a Starbucks outlet in New York City on March 11, 2013. The city has sought to prohibit restaurants, movie theaters, food carts and stadium concession stands from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces, but a judge struck down the limits. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would appeal. (AFP/Getty Images/Timothy A. Clary)

After more than two decades of rising obesity, the rate of increase among Americans is slowing and possibly leveling off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1 Among children in kindergarten through 12th-grade, the rate is declining slightly, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, but it remains high among minority children. 2

Still, more than a third of U.S. adults and nearly 17 percent of children are obese. 3 (An adult with a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight; a person with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.) Meanwhile, the annual cost of treating obesity-related illnesses has risen 62 percent since 2003, from $117 billion to $190.2 billion, according to a 2012 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report. 4