Obesity and Nutrition

More than one-third of U.S. adults — and about 17 percent of U.S. children — are obese. Obesity puts people at risk for many health issues including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and certain types of cancer. Because these conditions are some of the top preventable causes of chronic illness and death, NIH has a considerable interest in addressing obesity.

The problem of obesity seems straightforward: When we eat more calories than we burn, our bodies store this extra energy as fat. Yet, we all know how hard it can be just to lose a few pounds. And solving this problem on 
a population-sized scale has proven to be tremendously difficult. That is because so many factors play a role: where we live and work, how much time we spend sitting – and the availability of safe spaces for exercise – and the fact that many people cannot choose alternatives. Access to nutritious food can be a major barrier for many with low incomes or mobility limitations.

Heredity also has an impact. For example, NIH research shows that certain gene variations that occur in one 
of six people of European descent translate into an extra 7 pounds, on average. Those discoveries are pointing to pathways involved in obesity that suggest potential ways to prevent undesirable weight gain. Research on the social factors contributing to obesity also offers ideas for intervention. When people are provided funds to buy food once a week, instead of monthly, they are more likely to buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packaged (and often less-nutritious) goods. We also know that affordable housing programs lead to better nutrition, because people no longer must compromise on food 
in order to pay rent. 

Did you know?

NIH research funding across the nation generated $65 billion in new economic activity in 2016.

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This page last reviewed on February 11, 2020