Population Health

The CDC’s Heavy Obesity Update

Obesity is easily among the leading cardiovascular disease risk factors, and its overall impact on public cardiovascular health could be rising faster than many of us might imagine. 

That’s a cardiology-centric takeaway from the CDC’s recent obesity update, which showed that in just 10 years the U.S. went from having zero states with an obesity prevalence above 35% to a whopping 22 states in 2022. 

The CDC’s overwhelmingly orange and red-colored Obesity Prevalence Map does a great job visually depicting obesity’s nationwide expansion, although a closer look shows that this trend is particularly strong within certain regions and populations.

  • Obesity was most prevalent in the Midwest and the South, where nearly 36% of adults had obesity, while three states in those regions had >40% obesity prevalence (Louisiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia)
  • Obesity was particularly high among Hispanic, Native American, and Black adults (>35% prevalence in 32, 33, and 38 states), versus just 14 states for White adults
  • Obesity increased with age, as young adults aged 18-24 were half as likely to have obesity than adults aged 45-54 (20.5% vs. 39.9%)
  • Obesity declined as level of education increased, as college graduates had far lower obesity prevalence than high school graduates (27.2% vs. 35.7%)

These statistics are pretty shocking, and if you consider that this study used telephone survey data of people’s height and weight (which people tend to round up or down), these might be “conservative estimates.” They also support a 2017-2018 NHANES study that found over 73% of U.S. adults were overweight or had obesity.

CDC leaders were understandably alarmed by this trend, highlighting obesity’s health risks (including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes), and calling additional support for obesity prevention and treatment an “urgent priority.” 

  • The report outlined the resources and strategies that the CDC designed to support state and local stakeholders, although it made no mention of management with weight loss medications.

The Takeaway

This is a public health story to most people, but it’s hard for cardiology professionals not to also view it as a cardiology story. And although cardiology’s role in obesity management is still largely undefined, it will be cardiology’s responsibility to treat the cardiovascular diseases that will be driven in part by Americas’ growing obesity problem.

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