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The average American is inching closer to being obese, CDC data shows

In overall weight, men gained an average of 8.5 pounds and women an average of 6.8 pounds between 1999 and 2016.

In overall weight, men gained an average of 8.5 pounds and women an average of 6.8 pounds between 1999 and 2016.
REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

As we start 2019, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight for America’s weight problem. Indeed, it appears to be getting worse.

According to a recent government report, the mean body mass index (BMI) of adults in the United States in 2015-2016 was 29.1 for men and 29.6 for women — about a point higher for both genders than a decade and a half earlier, in 1999-2000.

A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

In overall weight, men gained an average of 8.5 pounds and women an average of 6.8 pounds between 1999 and 2016. The mean weight for men is now 197.9 pounds. For women, it’s 170.6 pounds.

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The report also found that Americans’ waists have expanded considerably during that time period — by an average of more than one inch in men and more than two inches in women.

The mean height of U.S. adults, however, has slightly decreased, the report says. Women’s height fell from a mean of 5 feet 3.8 inches in 1999-2000 to 5 feet 3.7 inches in 2015-2016. For men, the mean height was 5 feet 9.2 inches in 1999-2000. It then increased to 5 feet 9.4 inches in 2003 before falling to 5 feet 9.1 inches in 2015-2016.

Important consequences

To reach its findings, CDC officials used National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, which is collected at two-year intervals from a representative sample of Americans aged 20 and older. The good thing about this data is that it is based on actual measurements taken by health professionals rather than on information provided by the participants’ self-reports.

The new report is an update of a previous one, published in 2004, which looked at the same measures (except for waist circumference) for the years 1960 through 2002.  In that earlier report, the mean weight for American adults had increased by about 24 pounds and the mean height by about one inch.

Needless to say, the continuance of the upward trend in weight in the current report, coupled with the finding about expanding waist circumferences, is troubling. Although BMI does not always reflect a person’s health status accurately, being obese or overweight (a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9) has been identified as a risk factor for many chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, kidney disease and certain types of cancer.

In addition, waist circumference is now considered an independent predictor of risk for many of those same diseases — above and beyond BMI. The increased risk begins in men when their waists exceed 40 inches and in women when they exceed 35 inches.

According to the new report, the average waist circumference for men was 40.2 inches and for women was 38.6 inches in 2015-2016. That’s up from 39 inches for men and 36.3 inches for women in 1999-2000.

Other findings

CDC’s researchers broke down the data by age, race and Hispanic origin. They found that all age groups saw increases in their average weight, BMI and waist circumference between 1999-2000 and 2015-2016.  So did whites, Hispanics and black women.

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Mexican-American women experienced the biggest weight increases. They gained an average of 14 pounds over the study period, compared with about 9 pounds for white women and only about 0.2 pounds for black women.

Black men saw their average weight, BMI and waist circumference increase, but only until 2005-2006. After that, those measures plateaued.

Asian-Americans experienced no significant changes in any of those three measures.

That last finding seems to be the only good news in this report. If the other trends in this report continue, it won’t be long before the average American adult is not just overweight, but obese.

FMI: You can read the report online.