US Obesity Reaches Record High, Gallup Poll Finds

By ACSH Staff — Feb 17, 2016
While the U.S. population continues to struggle with a well-known obesity epidemic, according to the results of a new Gallup poll it appears that the problem is getting worse before it will get better. The nation's obesity rate has climbed to a record high, with 28 percent of all adults falling into this category.
shutterstock_190122638 Obesity via Shutterstock

Those concerned with public health are attuned to keeping an eye on the weight of average Americans, since this statistic has wide-ranging health implications, both individually and for the nation as a whole. And while the U.S. population has been struggling with a well-known obesity epidemic, according to new survey information it appears that the problem is getting worse before it will get better.

A newly-released Gallup poll conducted with Healthways, a well-being improvement company, shows that the rate of obesity in the United States climbed to a record high, with 28 percent of all adults categorized as such.

That figure is up from 27.7 percent which Gallup recorded in 2014, and significantly higher than 25.5 percent from just seven years ago. Since 2008, in the Gallup-Healthways polling, there has only been one year in which the obesity rate fell, and that was in 2011 when it dipped slightly from 26.6 in 2010, to 26.1 percent.

The results were derived from "a random sample of over 350,000 adults in 2008-2012 and over 175,000 adults in 2013-2015, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia."

Meanwhile, figures from the Centers for Disease Control for the years 2011-12, a few years earlier, say that just over 35 percent of adults 20-years old and over are obese, while nearly 70 percent are overweight or obese.

Gallup-Healthways polling also identifies the regions of the country where obesity is highest. From its list released last May, this dubious honor went to Baton Rouge, boasting a whopping 35.9 percent of adult residents who are obese.

This southern Louisiana city on the Mississippi River was followed closely by the region of Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA with an obesity rate of 35.3. Coming in at No. 3 is Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR, at 34.1 percent.

According to Gallup, this survey's results were based on telephone interviews over 2014 "with a random sample of 176,702 adults, aged 18 and older, living in metropolitan areas in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia."

Here's the survey's Top 10 List of Most Obese Regions, by percentage of adult population:

  • Baton Rouge, La -- 35.9
  • Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa -- 35.3
  • Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, Ark. -- 34.1
  • Tulsa, Okla. -- 33.5
  • Dayton, Ohio -- 33.1
  • Memphis, Tenn-Mo, Ark -- 33.2
  • Toledo, Ohio -- 33.1
  • Bakersfield, Calif -- 33.1
  • Worcester, Mass -- 33.0
  • Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Ind. -- 32.2


These figures are terribly upsetting. And just because someone may not live in one of these regions where obesity flourishes, that doesn't mean they're not susceptible as well. But what exactly makes one region more likely to be that way versus another? And might the same criteria also apply to a town, neighborhood, or even a household? The answer is: Yes. And it can be explained by the Social Ecological Model of health behavior, a theory that explains the factors that influence health and wellness at varying levels of our surroundings.

There are three criteria, or "levels," that are arguably the most influential when it comes to obesity. Here they are, along with an example of how each works to affect weight gain, BMI and waist circumference among collective groups.

The Individual Level

Individual level factors influencing health include knowledge, attitudes and beliefs. For example, if we have a negative perception of our physical appearance, it can interfere with how susceptible we are to weight gain. Those who exhibit a more negative body image are more likely to be overweight. The take away here is this: No matter what the number on the scale is, it's helpful to maintain a positive attitude of oneself, as best as possible. A less favorable attitude will only perpetuate more negative behaviors, that can potentially lead weight gain.

The Interpersonal Level

This level represents individual's interactions with others, or relationships shared within social networks such as families, peer groups and friendship. This is important when people tend to associate foods with pleasure, friendship and socializing. So, if you're hangng with a group which enjoys high-calorie food and sitting on the couch, then you might expect a negative reaction from them if you're suddenly advocating a healthier path regarding meals. This lack of social support acts as a barrier. If you want to begin, or continue with, a healthy lifestyle, surround yourself with those who have the same goal.

The Community Level

When it comes to obesity and communities, we can basically reason that, on average, the more unhealthy food offerings that exist nearby, the more likely it is that someone will make poor food choices. And if done repetitively, those choice have the potential for setting the table to become obese. So be mindful of the types of restaurants and food stores near you, and whenever possible, if at all possible, seek out healthy purveyors.

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