Obesity is a condition that touches every life in Wisconsin.

We present new evidence of the scope of the obesity epidemic in Wisconsin. In 2015 to 2016, 41.2% of adults and 14.8% of children statewide had obesity.

As high as these overall numbers are, they mask another set of findings that are arguably more important for Wisconsin’s long-term health and prosperity. We describe patterns of obesity rates by age and by place. We find that there are neighborhoods in Wisconsin where children are almost six times more likely to be obese than in other nearby neighborhoods. Obesity rates are lowest in early childhood and highest in middle age. These patterns highlight how people across Wisconsin face differences in the conditions that shape their weight and health.

Although we start by describing the patterns we see in obesity rates in Wisconsin, we do not stop there. We also offer connections to resources, possible solutions, and other change-makers that can help you take action to address obesity in your area.

More about the project

These findings are a product of the Wisconsin Obesity Prevention Initiative. Funding for this study was provided by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health through the Wisconsin Partnership Program.

These findings highlight obesity rates by ZIP Code and age. Use the buttons above to view interactive mapping tools, download the full report (PDF), and access tables of estimates by ZIP Code.

Suggested citation: Joyner HR, Charron LM, Lindberg SM, et al. “One Size Fits All” Doesn’t Work for Obesity Prevention: Obesity in Wisconsin, 2015-2016. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2018.

Understanding Obesity

Basket full of healthy fruits and vegetables

Most people probably already know that it's important to eat a healthy diet and be physically active in order to maintain a healthy weight. That's true, because our habits add up over time to shape our weight and health. 1 Sticking with healthy habits like being physically active, eating nutritious food, and maintaining a healthy weight helps to reduce the risk of the leading causes of death in the United States, like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and some kinds of cancer. 2 That means living longer and facing fewer health challenges. 3–6

But focusing only on an individual’s healthy habits leaves out a big part of the story. Our choices about diet and physical activity are important, but the places and conditions in which we live can make it easier or harder to make healthy choices about what to eat and how to be physically active in our everyday life. Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to be more physically active, eat better, or lose weight? Think of all the things that affected your ability to stick with it. Did your family and friends support you? Could you afford healthy food or a gym membership? Were there convenient places for you to buy healthy foods and be active? Did your new healthier choices fit into your routine? Did you have time, energy, skills, and a place to cook healthy meals? Were you embarrassed or worried that people around you might make discouraging comments? Did you feel safe being active in your neighborhood?

In short, not all of us have it easy when it comes to making healthy choices. The choices we make are dependent on the opportunities we have, and conditions in our communities help shape our opportunities to be healthy. There are communities where opportunities to be healthy are abundant and affordable and supported, so healthy choices are relatively easy for everyone. Just as many communities have limited opportunities for affordable healthy eating and physical activity or other serious obstacles to healthy choices. In those places, residents face extra barriers and stresses that impact their ability to maintain a healthy weight and increase their chances of having obesity.

Obesity is a disease.7,8 It is an incredibly complicated disease, and many different factors play a role.9 There is no one solution to obesity, but there are many ways that we can work to make Wisconsin a healthier place for everyone. We do that by making healthy choices easier for all people—for all ages, all abilities, and in all communities. It will work best if everyone participates to find solutions that fit their communities’ unique needs and strengths.

Three children playing ball in the light of the setting sun

Our findings detail how obesity differs across Wisconsin by age and place. As you explore the data, we encourage you to think about the unique challenges and opportunities in your own community, and how you might contribute to making your community a place where healthier choices are just a little bit easier for everyone.


  1. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity NC for CDP and HP. Preventing Weight Gain | Healthy Weight. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/prevention/index.html. Accessed May 22, 2018.
  2. Mokdad AH, Ballestros K, Echko M, et al. The State of US Health, 1990-2016. Jama. 2018;319(14):1444. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0158.
  3. Li Y, Pan A, Wang DD, et al. Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population. Circulation. 2018:CIRCULATIONAHA.117.032047. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.117.032047.
  4. Stewart ST, Cutler DM, Rosen AB. Forecasting the Effects of Obesity and Smoking on U.S. Life Expectancy. N Engl J Med. 2009;361(23):2252-2260. doi:10.1056/NEJMsa0900459.
  5. Carlson SA, Adams EK, Yang Z, Fulton J. Percentage of Deaths Associated With Inadequate Physical Activity in the United States. Prev Chronic Dis. 2018;15:1-14. doi:10.5888/pcd18.170354.
  6. Sotos-Prieto M, Bhupathiraju SN, Mattei J, et al. Association of Changes in Diet Quality with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. N Engl J Med. 2017;377(2):143-153. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1613502.
  7. AMA. Recognition of obesity as a disease. 2013;420:1-7. http://media.npr.org/documents/2013/jun/ama-resolution-obesity.pdf%5Cnpapers2://publication/uuid/A5DC9D88-391F-4E51-BD5A-8CAAA4EED4B2.
  8. American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Disease of Obesity. https://asmbs.org/patients/disease-of-obesity. Accessed May 22, 2018.
  9. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity NC for CDP and HP. Strategies to Prevent Obesity | Overweight & Obesity. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/strategies/index.html. Accessed May 22, 2018.