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 changed to the greater percentage.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 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 gradually darken until 1997, when a new cream colour was introduced to share those states where the percentage of obese adults was 20% or more. As you might be expecting, by now more and more blues changed to cream. And then in 2001, we have the introduction of orange to share the first state, Mississippi, where the percentage of obese adults was 25% or more. In 2005, red was introduced for those states where the percentage of obese adults was 30% or more.

Skip to 1 minute and 35 secondsAnd 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.

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


Optional further reading:

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Obesity: Causes and Consequences

University of Reading

Contact FutureLearn for Support