Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsTo see how the level of obesity has risen over the past few decades, take a look at the slides produced by the Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is a health survey in the USA. The survey is run by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and conducted by each individual state health department. Initially, not all the states submitted data. But you can see how, in 1985, at the start of these slides, two shades of blue were used to show the percentage of adults with obesity. That is a BMI of 30 or more, pale blue for less than 10% and a mid-blue for 10% to 14%. You can see the colours change to the greater percentage.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 secondsAnd then in 1991, a darker blue was introduced for those states where the percentage of obese adults was between 15% and 19%. The states scratchy darkened, until 1997, when a new cream colour was introduced to show those states where the percentage of obese adults was 20% or more. As you might be expecting, by now more and more blue has changed to cream. And then in 2001, we have the instruction of orange to show the first state, Mississippi, where the percentage of obese adults was 25% or more.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 secondsIn 2005, red was introduced for those states where the percentage of obese adults was 30% or more. And by 2010, the final picture shows all the states in the cream to red range, from 20% to 30% obesity, and none left as blue. Thankfully, a recent report said that the prevalence of obesity in adults living in America seems to be levelling out, after three decades of big rises. From 2012 to 2013, the prevalence remained level in all states except Arkansas.

Case study: Changes in levels of obesity in the USA

Many of us are aware that obesity is increasingly a problem, but it’s often unclear just how prevalent it has become.

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) is a United States health survey that looks at behavioural risk factors. A series of maps have been created displaying the data from this survey by state. Between 1986 and 2010 an increasing number of categories had to be created to account for the rising numbers of obese adults.

Thankfully a recent report said that the prevalence of obesity in US adults seems to be levelling out after three decades of big rises. From 2012 to 2013 the prevalence remained level in all states except Arkansas where it continued to climb.


Optional further reading:

Requires a subscription McCarthy M. US obesity rates are leveling out, but long term effects raise concern. BMJ. 2013 Aug 20;347 (aug20 3):f5213–f5213.

You can see a similar time series for England from 1993 to 2011 on the Public Health England website

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Obesity: Causes and Consequences

University of Reading