Obesity Rates in the Unites States

January 22, 2008

According to a report recently released by CDC, obesity rates in the United States appear to be leveling off. The report, Obesity Among Adults in the United States – No Changes Since 2003-2004, is based on the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (“NHANE”), conducted by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. NHANE is a comprehensive federal survey that includes physical examinations. The study focuses on adults 20 years of age and older and concludes that about 33% of men and about 35% of women are obese. Although this is higher than the 31% and 33% reported, respectively, in the 2003-2004 surveys, the difference is not statistically significant. Hence, it appears that the obesity rate in the U.S. has reached a plateau. CDC also released results of a national telephone survey finding that roughly half of adults are getting more physical activity in 2005, an increase from 2001.

The report does not say that obesity is no longer of concern. While there has been no recent increase, the report notes that in 1980 obesity was observed in only about 15% of adult Americans, a bit less than half the rate reported currently. More than 72 million people were obese in 2005 to 2006. The heaviest Americans, in fact, have reportedly become even heavier in the last 25 years.

According to the report, obesity was most common in adults aged 40-59. In that group, about 40% of men were obese, compared with 28% of those aged 28-39 and 32% in those aged 60 and older.

Racial differences were said to be particularly noticeable in women: Approximately 51% of Mexican-American women aged 40-59 and 43% of non-Hispanic black women were obese compared with about 39% of non-Hispanic white women of the same age. Among women 60 and older, 61% of non-Hispanic black women were obese compared with 37% of Mexican-American women and 32% of non-Hispanic white women.

These data tend to support the impression that, even though litigation has played almost no role in battling obesity, efforts by industry, health care professionals, and individuals are bearing fruit.