New report shows environmental factors have driven growth in Indiana’s obesity rates and recommends collective action to address the health epidemic.

INDIANAPOLIS (March 13, 2019) — One in three Hoosier adults is obese, and more than two in three are overweight or obese, costing Indiana an estimated $8.5 billion in 2017– most of which is borne by households and the private sector. A report released today by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation underscores these findings, showing that obesity has increased dramatically in Marion County and Indiana, becoming one of the most significant preventable causes of morbidity and mortality.

The report shows that in Indiana, obesity rose from 20 percent in 1995 to 34 percent in 2017 – a rate that is the 12th highest in the U.S. In Marion County, 39 percent of adults are obese, up from 26 percent in 2005 and 33 percent in 2012. Marion County’s obesity rate is 11th highest among the largest cities in the U.S., and an alarming 69 percent of Marion County residents are overweight or obese.

“The rise in obesity is not the result of changes to the gene pool or the failure of individuals. It is a function of changes to the environments that influence healthy behaviors,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, president and CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation. “We must address this pressing health challenge in order to thrive as a city and state.”

Obesity is caused by poor diet and lack of physical activity. In Indiana, 89 percent of adults do not consume the recommended number of fruits, and 91 percent do not consume the recommended number of vegetables. Eighty-three percent of Indiana adults do not get enough physical activity to meet the national guideline of at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week.

These patterns of diet and physical inactivity are driven largely by the environments in which people live, work, learn and play. They are compounded in many cases by factors such as income, employment, education, early childhood experiences, stress, gender, and race and ethnicity, all of which can profoundly affect individuals’ experiences, perceptions, behaviors and health outcomes.

Obesity increases the risk of serious health consequences, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, asthma, sleep apnea, liver disease, kidney disease, gallbladder disease and certain types of cancer, including thyroid, stomach, colon and others. These conditions often begin to develop in childhood, and children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults. Individuals who are obese are more likely to face stigmatization, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. And being overweight or obese is one of the most common reasons for young people to be ineligible to serve in the military, with nearly one in four young adults deemed too heavy.

High rates of obesity also translate into high economic costs for Indiana, totaling $8.5 billion in 2017. The private sector bears the majority of these costs, which include $3.9 billion in labor market losses due to increased absenteeism and lower productivity while at work; $2.9 billion in excess healthcare costs; and $1.7 billion in lost economic output resulting from premature mortality.

Policy-based and environmental strategies hold considerable promise for addressing obesity. Proven approaches exist for healthcare providers, employers, K-12 schools, community partners, policymakers and advocates, including:

  • Healthcare systems can support healthy weight in patients through a combination of a reduced-calorie diet approach, physical activity recommendations and behavioral therapy.
  • Employers can have a major impact on obesity by providing incentives to encourage employees to improve diet and increase physical activity. This could include in-person counseling support delivered through one-on-one or group meetings.
  • K-12 schools can promote healthier eating by modifying the cafeteria setting — for example, by offering sliced fruit or using creative names to make healthier foods more appealing.

To download the full report and see recommended actions for all sectors, please visit



The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation strives to advance the vitality of Indianapolis and the well-being of its people by addressing the city’s most significant challenges and opportunities. The Foundation is focused on three issue-areas: education, tobacco and opioid addiction, and the life-sciences. To advance its work, the Foundation implements a three-pronged approach: strategic grantmaking, evidence-based advocacy, and cross-sector collaborations and convenings. Learn more at