Americans Are Now Fatter Than Ever

Chart showing obesity prevalence in U.S. adults

The obesity epidemic shows no signs of slowing, and Americans are now fatter than ever. When looked at in terms of body fat rather than body mass index (BMI), the numbers become astronomical. No use sugarcoating this.

Obesity rate hits a new high

America’s obesity rate has hit a new high, with nearly 40% of adults obese.

Obesity, it’s important to note, is just a stronger form of being overweight. When you add the figure for being overweight, some 71% of adult Americans are overweight/obese. As the above figure shows, the numbers are projected to get worse.

Body mass index (BMI), however, is not the best measure of the health consequences of being overweight. BMI can both overestimate and underestimate obesity. Overestimation is less common, mostly being confined to power and strength athletes, whose muscle mass makes them appear too heavy for their height, when in fact they’re in better metabolic health. There aren’t too many of those as a percentage of the population.

Underestimation is more common. Many people with a “normal” BMI in reality carry too much body fat. These have been designated as “normal weight obese“, otherwise known as skinny-fat. When we look at excess body fat alone, the figures for overweight/obesity soar.


Overfat is the condition of having more body fat than is good for health.

When the figures for people with too high body fat but normal weight are added to the figures for overweight/obesity, 91% of adult Americans are overfat. The figure for children is 69%. Chart below.

The percentage of body fat that can cause health problems, especially cardiometabolic risk, is surprisingly low.

Lohman’s criteria of suggested cutoffs >17.6% for males and >31.6% for females is widely accepted in body composition research. However, measurable health impairments associated with ≥2 cardiometabolic abnormalities were found at DXA-derived body fat levels >15.3% in men and >29.8% in women.

A man with more than 15.3% body fat, and a woman with more than 29.8%, are at higher health risk and are overfat.

Below are some examples of what different body fat percentages look like.

Quick cutting question ( cheatday, cardio, food) - Forums

Body fat, health, and aging

It should be clear that the health consequences of excess body fat lie on a continuum, which is why body fat percentages that are not even terribly high are associated with health risks.

So, one of the requirements for being healthy and for living as long as possible are to stay lean.

You don’t see many fat centenarians, and that’s no coincidence.

Why are Americans getting fatter?

Americans are getting fatter for two reasons.

  1. The advice they get is terrible.
  2. Many want to make no sacrifices or exert much effort.

The advice to eat low-fat, to graze (eat all the time), to consume “healthy whole grains”, to count calories, or to exercise to “burn” calories is all bad advice that has been repeatedly shown not to work.

The best diet for weight loss is one that the mainstream condemns. As for exercise, the notion of burning excess calories is next to nonsensical.

As for sacrifices, even when people do get good advice – not often, admittedly – many won’t take it. They like their carbs and junk food and consider it an imposition to give them up. Complacency rules. While it may be true that nobody wants to be fat, how much they dislike it seems debatable.

PS: For more on how staying lean and muscular is important to long life, see my book, Muscle Up.

PPS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.

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  1. Rob says:

    All true. Unfortunately, I don’t see the obesity/overfat numbers getting any better in the near future, either…….if anything, they are likely to get worse. I see people trying to lose weight by eating low-fat yogurt and drinking diet soda – a complete disaster. When I shop at the grocery store these days, I literally have a hard time finding 3 or 4 items to buy (mostly from the produce section, as we get all our meat from local farmers)…….the rest is highly-processed pseudo-food that is terribly unhealthy. The stores stock this garbage because that is what most people buy. It’s not difficult or even that expensive to buy or grow your own healthy, whole foods, but the sad truth is that most people don’t have a clue what a healthy diet looks like, and really don’t want to take the time to learn about diet and health (except for what they read in USA Today or see in a 30-second clip on the news).

    • P. D. Mangan says:

      Yes, indeed, Rob. You probably know what kind of reactions you get when you tell people they should eat more meat – shock and horror. Grocery stores are just a disaster, though as you say, if you know the right choices, not so bad.

  2. Thomas says:

    Good grief. I know what I’m going to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: that I found sites like this, AJA Cortes, Ed Latimore, and the like that gave me not only the info I need to get into good health, but also helped me develop the discipline to finally f’ing do it. You do good work sir, and have my gratitude.

  3. Montgomery says:

    Looking at the body-fat-percentages picture in the article I noticed how fascinatingly precise human sexual-attractiveness-assessment instincts appear to be:
    Peak sexual attractiveness and peak health, regarding body fat percentage from visual cues, seem to be quite exactly identical.

    If you think about it, you start to notice it ubiquitously:
    In advertisement, Movies, pornography, even characters in children’s cartoons.

    Those things have to sell, that is, they have to be voluntarily consumed, therefore have to induce maximal visual pleasure – and therefore they signal honest and true body-shape ideals.

    One of many examples, a contemporarily popular children’s cartoon:

  4. Charley says:

    Question about “healthy whole grains.” I have steel-cut oats every morning. Is this recommended or not? If not, what would be better for breakfast?

    • Rob says:

      Most grains, including steel-cut oats, are very nutrient-poor, and they are rapidly converted to glucose by your body. You really need something more nutrient-dense, like protein and fat for breakfast. There are a lot of options, but my breakfast often consists of a 3-egg omelet (sauteed in butter) with some greens, cheese, and maybe leftover meat from yesterday’s dinner mixed in. Or, you could just eat whatever meat and veggies you have left over from a previous dinner (with some fat added in, like butter or coconut oil). If you eat this way for breakfast, you should notice that you stay full longer than you would with a grain-based breakfast like steel-cut oats.
      I’m sure PD will weigh in with his suggestions also.

    • Drifter says:

      An equally important question is whether you should be eating “breakfast” at all if it means you can’t adhere to an 8 hour or less feeding window. What you eat (within reason) may be less important than allowing your body 16 hours or so in the unfed state.

    • P. D. Mangan says:

      Hi Charley – I’m in agreement with both Rob and Drifter. If you want breakfast, Rob’s ideas are great. If you want to accelerate fat loss or go the extra anti-aging mile, try some intermittent fasting, which in its most common version means skipping breakfast. Whatever you do, it should not be the case that you get ravenously hungry, which is usually from eating too much in the way of carbs. Many of us have little appetite in the morning, especially after a cup of coffee or tea, and fasting comes naturally.

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