Obesity in American Nursing Homes on the Rise


Obesity is a serious concern for Americans, with 46 states reporting 25 percent of their population as obese in 2017.  Now, researchers and advocates are focusing more specifically on whether obesity in American nursing homes is on the rise as well. 

Obesity has been linked to a host of health conditions that may be especially dangerous for aging and elderly individuals.  Let’s take a look at what obesity is, obesity rates across the U.S., as well as what research shows regarding obesity in American nursing homes.

What is Obesity?

According to the U.S.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a standard definition of obesity is a “weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height”.  To determine whether someone is obese, healthcare providers use a body mass index (BMI) tool, which divides an individual’s weight by their height.  A high BMI may indicate that the individual is overweight or obese.  BMI testing alone is not enough to determine the overall health of an individual, or identify whether they are obese.  Healthcare providers must use a variety of diagnostic tools to determine overall health.

Patients who are obese often suffer from potentially dangerous comorbidities, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and are at an increased risk of stroke.  Obese patients also often struggle with muscle tone, flexibility, mobility, and skin conditions.

It is incredibly important that nursing homes are equipped, trained, and staffed to manage the various needs of their residents.  Nursing homes should provide an environment of safety and comfort for every resident.  If you have concerns about the quality or safety of a nursing home, contact the nursing home abuse attorneys at Brown, Christie & Green today.

Obesity Rates Across the U.S.

According to statistics from the website “State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America“, obesity rates have increased across the U.S.  in recent years.  Statistics show the following:

  • Five states have obesity rates exceeding 35 percent.
  • 25 states have obesity rates reaching 30 percent.
  • 46 states have obesity rates of 25 percent.
  • Colorado has the lowest obesity rate at 22.3 percent.
  • West Virginia has the highest obesity rate at 37.7 percent.
  • The only state to see a decrease in obesity rates between 2015 and 2016 was Kansas.

The CDC further offers the following statistics and information:

  • Approximately 36.5 percent of adults in the U.S. have obesity.
  • The estimated cost of obesity-related medical costs totaled $147 billion in 2008.
  • Obesity rates are higher among middle-age and older adults than among younger adults or children.
  • Obesity rates are not consistent among all groups, such as:
    • 1 percent of obese Americans are African-American
    • 5 percent of obese Americans are Hispanic
    • 5 percent of obese Americans are Caucasian
    • 7 percent of obese Americans are Asian

Obesity Rates Across American Nursing Homes

According to researchers, the number of obese nursing home residents has increased substantially in recent years.  Between 2005 and 2015, the number of obese nursing home residents increased from 22 to 28 percent.  Among those studied, researchers found the following:

  • The most significant increase (4 to 7 percent) was among women.
  • The most severely obese residents (Class III) were among the youngest.
  • Obese residents presented specific comorbidities and other factors that could help nursing homes better prepare for this increasing population.
  • The most severely obese residents suffered more chronic conditions, but had lower rates of cognitive decline.

Obesity in Nursing Homes Presents Significant Issues

In 2015, the New York Times released an article titled “Rising Obesity Rates Put Strain on Nursing Homes”.  This article described the difficulties that nursing homes faced when managing the unique needs of obese residents.  Nursing homes reported feeling inadequately trained, staffed, and equipped to manage obese patients who often require special equipment in order to be lifted, bathed, or moved.

The NYT article and other sources share concerns over issues specific to the obese community and their entry and care in nursing home settings.  These issues include:

Occupational Risks

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has special rules about managing obese patients when specialized equipment is required. Even with these rules, training seems to remain a tremendous barrier, as healthcare workers consistently rate among the highest group of those injured in lifting injuries on-the-job.

Budgetary Concerns

One of the significant issues related to obese nursing home residents is the fact that Medicaid does not reimburse nursing homes for specialized equipment, including:

  • Motorized lifts
  • Larger wheelchairs
  • Extra-wide beds
  • Larger-sized bedside commodes or shower chairs
  • Longer needles
  • Larger blood pressure cuffs

Patient Safety

Another significant issue is safety. Obese patients who are set to be discharged from a hospital often find their applications to nursing homes declined.  That creates a problem for hospitals when they are unable to safely arrange discharge to an appropriate facility or caregiver.  In areas of the U.S.  where obesity rates are highest, healthcare providers may go through a series of 30 or 40 referrals before they secure a safe location for discharge of obese patients.

As the number of elderly Americans continues to rise, the issue of safe and quality care for obese patients continues to be a serious concern.  By 2040, an estimated 82 million Americans will be 65 or older.  As obesity continues to increase also, many worry that the problem of obesity in nursing homes will only grow worse.

Learn More about Obesity in Nursing Homes

Do you or someone you love need the skill and quality of care a nursing home provides?  If obesity is a factor, you may find it difficult to secure the right environment for your health and safety.  If you have questions about your legal rights as a nursing home applicant or resident, contact Nursing Home Abuse Center.  We can offer guidance about your rights as you enter a facility or seek to continue living in one.

If you live in a nursing home and have concerns about the level of safety and care provided, we can also help you explore your rights and options.  Fill out our online form to get started, and one of our attorneys will contact you as soon as possible.


meagan cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to FNHA and our websites, including Birth Injury Guide and MedMalFirm.com.