Obesity rates continue to climb in the United States

Jul 10, 2007

The U.S. obesity prevalence increased from 13 percent to 32 percent between the 1960s and 2004, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Human Nutrition.

The prevalence of obesity and overweight has increased at an average rate of 0.3–0.8 percentage points across different sociodemographic groups over the past three decades. Some minority and low socioeconomic status groups—such as non-Hispanic black women and children, Mexican-American women and children, low socioeconomic status black men and white women and children, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders—are disproportionately affected. The meta-analysis was published online on May 17, 2007, in advance of the 2007 issue of the journal Epidemiologic Reviews.

“The obesity rate in the United States has increased at an alarming rate over the past three decades. We set out to estimate the average annual increase in prevalence as well as the variation between population groups to predict the future situation regarding obesity and overweight among U.S. adults and children,” said Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of International Health. “Obesity is a public health crisis. If the rate of obesity and overweight continues at this pace, by 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese.”

The study authors included 20 journal papers, reports and online data sets in their meta-analysis. In addition, data from four national surveys—NHANES, BRFSS, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System and National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health—were included in order to examine the disparities in obesity. They defined adult overweight and obesity using body mass index cutoffs of 25 and 30, respectively. Children at risk for overweight and overweight were classified as being in the 85th and 95th percentiles of body mass index, respectively. The key findings include:

-- 66% of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in 2003-2004.

-- Women 20–34 years old had the fastest increase rate of obesity and overweight.

-- 80% of black women aged 40 years or over are overweight; 50% are obese.

-- Asians have a lower obesity prevalence when compared to other ethnic groups. However, Asians born in the United States are four times more likely to be obese than their foreign-born counterparts.

-- Less educated people have a higher prevalence of obesity than their counterparts, with the exception of black women.

-- States in the southeast have higher prevalence than states on the West Coast, the Midwest and the Northeast.

-- 16% of children and adolescents are overweight and 34% are at risk of becoming overweight in 2003-2004.

-- White children and adolescents had the lowest prevalence of overweight and being at risk of overweight compared with their black and Mexican counterparts.

“Our analysis showed patterns of obesity or overweight for various groups of Americans. All groups consistently increased in obesity or overweight prevalence, but the increase varied by group, making this public health issue complex. More research needs to be completed to look into the underlying causes,” says May A. Beydoun, coauthor of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of International Health. “Obesity is likely to continue to increase, and if nothing is done, it will soon become the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.”

In a related study, the Johns Hopkins co-authors published a research article in the May 7, 2007, issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found people purchase foods based on their income level and perception of a food’s health benefit and cost. Ethnicity, gender and environmental factors also impact people’s food choices.

NOTE: Unlike definitions for adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses “overweight” to refer to the highest body mass index for children and adolescents. Therefore, it is inaccurate to use the term “obese” when referring to elevated body mass index in this age group.

Source: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Explore further: Smoking's toll on mentally ill analyzed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Parents' work hours affect children

Dec 02, 2013

A comprehensive review of studies on parents' work schedules and child development spanning the last three decades shows that parents' work schedules in evenings, nights and weekends, so called "nonstandard work schedules" ...

Recommended for you

Smoking's toll on mentally ill analyzed

7 hours ago

Those in the United States with a mental illness diagnosis are much more likely to smoke cigarettes and smoke more heavily, and are less likely to quit smoking than those without mental illness, regardless ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Spate of Mideast virus infections raises concerns

A recent spate of infections from a frequently deadly Middle East virus is raising new worries about efforts to contain the illness, with infectious disease experts urging greater vigilance in combatting ...

Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. ...

Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

A new nano-membrane made out of the 'super material' graphene is extremely light and breathable. Not only can this open the door to a new generation of functional waterproof clothing, but also to ultra-rapid filtration. The ...

There's something ancient in the icebox

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...