The American obesity epidemic has displayed an ability to hold our attention like no other. Constantly dominating headlines and spurring endless debates and discussions, it seems that this health crisis is here to stay. In fact, 40 percent of American adults and nearly 20 percent of adolescents are now obese, according to a report released at the end of 2017. These are the highest rates of obesity ever recorded in the United States.
There has never been a better time to hit the gym, team up with a trainer, or spend a little dough on clean eating. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of Americans are getting their recommended amount of exercise, which hasn’t been the case for a number of years – so it seems like we’re off to a good start.
But how much does weight loss cost? How motivated is the average American when it comes to shedding a few pounds? We surveyed over 1,000 Americans to learn more about their relationship with their weight and to understand how much happiness men and women are able to derive from their fitness goals.
Read on to get a glimpse of who has the most weight to lose, who would be happiest shedding those pounds, and how far they would go to get there.
State of Weight
Before setting foot on a treadmill or lifting your first dumbbell, it’s important to be able to visualize your ideal – or goal – weight. Fortunately, there are many helpful tools out there to help you determine what is healthy for your height and age.
Our respondents’ goal weights ranged from 170 for men in their 20s – for an average of 21 pounds to lose – to 183 for men in their 50s. This demographic had 39 pounds to lose on average; an undertaking that may prove to be challenging as weight loss only gets more difficult with age.
However, male respondents’ highest number of pounds to shed was also women’s lowest. Female respondents in their 20s aimed to lose 39 pounds, with women in their 50s topping out the list with a 47-pound goal: A trend identical to the one seen among men.
Weight loss percentages were similarly elevated among women: This demographic aimed to lose between 22 and 25 percent of their body weight, while men’s goals hovered between 11 and 18 percent. Once again, the highest weight loss goal among men was a figure less than the lowest percentage among women.
Weight Loss Mapped
Visions of a better, lighter, healthier life are all well and good, but now it’s time to crunch some numbers. We wanted to know more about each region and gender’s weight loss goals, including which areas of the United States had the most weight to lose on average.
Men across the country weighed, on average, between 197 (Northeast) and 211 (South) pounds at the time of our survey. Men in the South, home of the heaviest states, sought an average of 34 pounds to lose, followed by the Midwest at 29 pounds.
Women living in the Midwest had the most weight to shed – 50 pounds – between both genders across the country. This may be due, in part, to the fact that women’s bodies metabolize fat quite differently than men. Not only do they not burn as much fat when at rest, but female bodies are “fattier” by nature. Healthy women have a range of 20 to 25 percent body fat, while men are closer to 10 or 15 percent.
Meanwhile, men in the West were at the opposite end of the spectrum, with only 27 pounds between them and their ideal weight (the lowest across gender lines). Women in the West were also closest to their goal, with an average of 38 pounds to shed. Men in the South held true to previous statistics, occupying the top slot for the amount of weight desired to lose among men.
In Pennsylvania, the average woman was seeking to lose 44 pounds, while men were only aiming for 12 – that’s about 3.6 times less. The lowest rate of variation was seen in Florida: Women wanted to lose 37 pounds, while men were right behind them at 35 pounds.
Cost of Your Ideal Self
Unless you possess the kind of intrinsic motivation that inspires you to do planks and push ups in your own living room, weight loss is going to cost you.
Personal trainers, fitness classes, and gym memberships range from fairly priced to eye-poppingly expensive. Weight loss surgery can often be prohibitively expensive if not covered by insurance. And modifying your diet to include a slew of new foods and supplements can up your grocery bill fast. In 2015, the diet industry was worth $65.5 billion – funded in large part, of course, by Americans with weight loss in mind.
“Weight loss happens in the kitchen” is an increasingly common adage in the health community. While nothing is ever that simple, it certainly rings true in many ways. Regardless of that fact, Americans were not willing to spend much on diet foods and supplements, though compared to the cost of a single medical procedure, it’s understandable. The same trend applied to personal training and group fitness.
Men in their 50s were most willing to spend money on dieting, at $862 per month, followed by respondents aged 60 and older at $714. Women topped out at a monthly budget of $537, offered up by respondents in their 40s, followed closely by women in their 50s with a $493 budget.
In comparison, budgets for weight loss surgery hovered largely between $1,000 and $2,000 – the former more common among men, and the latter for women. Female respondents in their 50s had the absolute largest amount they’d be willing to pay for these procedures – $2,781. Not far behind were women in their 30s with a $2,605 budget.
Respondents in their 60s were the least ready to spend on weight loss surgery, but men really bucked the trend: With only $333 in their budget, they are the only ones who were not willing to spend over $1,000.
Save for men in their 60s, personal training and fitness classes did not drum up much excitement among respondents, with monthly budgets across gender lines between $148 and $283.
Regional Values on Weight
A budget is only as strong as its capacity for implementation. So how much would Americans spend on their weight loss?
There was no significant correlation between men and women from the same region this time around. Women in the Midwest threw down the most money during their weight loss journey, totaling $3,343 on average. Conversely, men in the Midwest spent the least of all, averaging just $1,662 in total.
Aside from Midwest residents, men’s spending surpassed $2,000 in every other region, topping out at $2,734 in the Northeast. Women in the South were the only other demographic to crack the $3,000 ceiling, with Northeastern and Western women not far behind ($2,833 and $2,740 respectively).
The good news is that after all this expenditure, losing weight could actually save you money in the long run. A study conducted by Duke University revealed that individuals with a BMI of 19 – considered to be low – spent $2,541 annually on health and fitness, compared to $3,439 among those with a BMI of 33, which indicates obesity.
The pursuit of happiness is a lifelong journey, and there is no single formula that will get you to your destination. On the contrary, there are many ways to be a happier, more fulfilled person every day. While losing weight means meeting an important goal, and meeting important goals is one way to work toward a fulfilled and joyful life, it is but one of many cogs in the happiness machine. Traversing the unique corners of the United States, our study found that more than half of Americans everywhere felt their happiness was linked to other factors aside from their weight.
The Northeast was home to the highest volume of men and women who believed that happiness extends far beyond body weight: Sixty percent of men and 65 percent of women – the highest figure on the map – were in this camp.
Meanwhile, 59 percent of women in the West, Midwest, and South unanimously decided that achieving your goal weight is not the be-all and end-all of joy. Fifty percent of men in the South and Midwest felt the same way, along with 51 percent of those in the West.
Weight loss is a very personal journey, and no two experiences are quite the same. The United States is an elaborate social tapestry, with individuals along geographical and gender lines holding varying beliefs about their own path to a healthier self.
While some are keen on emptying their wallets in favor of weight loss, others are less willing to spend big. Female respondents not only felt they had more weight to lose than men did, but they also exhibited a greater sense of happiness tied to the idea of attaining a slimmer figure. Additionally, the rate of obesity per region seemed to have little to no bearing on how much each population was willing to shell out. No matter the nitty gritty, the pursuit of a well-rounded lifestyle is a noble one, so go forth with vigor and enthusiasm!
We collected 1,001 responses from American men and women, with 376 males, 620 females, and five individuals with other specified genders. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 75 years of age, with a mean of 36.5 years and a standard deviation of 12 years. We did not have a validated measure of body confidence, so we created a scale of confidence level from 1 to 5, with 1 being “low level of confidence” and 5 being “high level of confidence.” Respondent data were weighted to the U.S. census.
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