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Why do we measure obesity?

More than one-third of adults in the United States are obese (body mass index of 30 or higher), and obesity is linked to wide-ranging health problems.(1) Conditions associated with obesity include type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, asthma, some cancers, poor mental health, and overall reduced quality of life, which may be exacerbated by associated stigma.(2,3)

Obesity is caused by a combination of genetics, health behaviors — including unhealthy dietary patterns and physical inactivity — and the environment in which people live, such as proximity to retail food outlets.(2) Some communities are disproportionately affected by obesity, particularly low-income and Black, Hispanic and American Indian and Alaska Native populations.(5)

How do we measure obesity?

This metric includes adults 18 or older, who report having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.(7)

Strengths of Metric

Limitations of Metric

Using self-reported height and weight, as we do with this metric, is the most reliable method of measurement for a large population.

BMI does not account for the gender, body composition, build, age, or ethnicity of a person.(6)

This metric only gives us a picture of adult obesity, not childhood obesity, which is also a public health concern in the U.S. 

The metric is self-reported and depends on the accurate reporting of the person surveyed.


Obesity is calculated by the following formulas:

Obesity Formula

This metric was calculated by aggregating estimates from smaller geographies to the congressional district level. For more information, please refer to the Congressional District Health Dashboard Technical Document.

Data Source

Estimates for this metric are from one year modeled PLACES Project Data (formerly 500 Cities Project)from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Years of Collection

Calculated by the Dashboard Team using data from 2021, 1 year modeled estimate.


  1. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Flegal KM. Prevalence of obesity among adults and youth: United States, 2011-2014. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics; 2015.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult Obesity Causes & Consequences. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html. Updated August 29, 2017. Accessed February 16, 2018.

  3. Guh DP, Zhang W, Bansback N, Amarsi Z, Birmingham CL, Anis AH. The incidence of co-morbidities related to obesity and overweight: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC public health. 2009;9(1):88.

  4. Hammond RA, Levine R. The economic impact of obesity in the United States. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity : targets and therapy. 2010;3:285-295.

  5. Wang Y, Beydoun MA. The obesity epidemic in the United States--gender, age, socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and geographic characteristics: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Epidemiol Rev. 2007;29:6-28.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Adult BMI. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html. Updated August 29,2017. Accessed February 16, 2018.

  7. Health Outcomes Measure definitions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/places/measure-definitions/health-outcomes/index.html#obesity. Published October 20, 2021.

Last updated: February 20, 2024