TFAH Issues 2021 State of Obesity Report

The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) recently released its 18th annual State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America report, finding that social and economic factors linked to obesity were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

TFAH reports that in 2020, 16 states had adult obesity rates at or above 35 percent, up from 12 states the previous year. As recently as 2012, no state had an adult obesity rate above 35 percent. Notably, California realized a significant increase in obesity rates between 2019 and 2020 with 30.3 percent of adults in California with obesity.

Authors of the report indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic changed eating habits, worsened levels of food insecurity, created barriers to physical activity, and heightened stress, on top of a decades-long pattern of increasing obesity in America. Obesity rates reported by TFAH vary considerably among states and regions of the U.S. TFAH points to systemic inequities and socioeconomic factors as playing a major contributing factor in higher rates of obesity among certain racial and ethnic populations.

To address the nation’s obesity levels, TFAH sets forth a series of recommendations focused on two principles: 1) the need for multi-sector, multi-disciplinary approaches, and 2) an intentional focus on population groups that experience a disproportionate risk for obesity. TFAH’s recommendations include:

  • Increasing funding to CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion – TFAH argues this investment should include at least $125 million in FY 2022 for CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, and $102.5 million in FY 2022 for CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health to ensure sufficient and equitable funding for obesity prevention programming in all 50 states.
  • Make healthy school meals free for all students – as a step to end child hunger and ensure access to healthy foods. TFAH urges policymakers to protect the recent expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and enhance access to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
  • Close loopholes and eliminate business-cost deductions – related to advertising of unhealthy food and beverages to children.
  • Increase the price of sugar-sweetened beverages through an excise tax – with tax revenues allocated to local efforts to reduce health and socioeconomic disparities and obesity prevention programs.
  • Ensure that all residents have safe and convenient access to walking and biking trails and that all students have safe routes to walk or bike to school – State and local educational agencies are also urged to prioritize physical activity during the school day.
  • Expand access to health insurance including through the extension of Medicaid – and by making marketplace coverage more affordable. Insurance plans should cover all U.S. Preventive Services Task Force “A” or “B” recommendations for obesity prevention programs with no-cost sharing for the patient.

The full TFAH report is available here. Additional data on obesity trends from the CDC is available here.