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

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

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.

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.

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.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by George Carlson on 01/02/2019 - 01:02 pm.

    Concerning the newly obese men, at least they don’t have to change their shirt size. The clothes industry has kept the same sizes for sport shirts as it always had. But in the last few years each of these standard sizes has ballooned. For years I wore a medium shirt. Now, having kept my weight steady, I am lost in a medium. I now wear a small which is the same as an older medium.

  2. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/03/2019 - 08:59 am.

    And there is one of the big reasons healthcare is so expensive. Obese people have more health issues. (there are some other serious reasons for high costs as well). Cut the carbs and eat high fat low carb foods.

  3. Submitted by Paul Drake on 01/03/2019 - 06:26 pm.

    By reporting averages the data are most likely skewed to appear worse than reality. A lot of values on one side of the middle of the set (the median) easily mess up conclusions.

    Say you have salary data from 10 people. One guy makes a million bucks a year and the rest have no income. The average salary of that group is $100k even though 90% of them are flat broke. The median income of $0 better represents the data.

    Do a gut check the next time you see a pack of high school kids. You’ll probably see plenty of girls who are over 5’7” and boys over 6’ tall. Then look for a group of senior citizens to see men below 5’7” and women closer to 5’. More oldsters shrinking than youngsters growing means the average falls!

  4. Submitted by Kathleen Castrovinci on 01/03/2019 - 08:35 pm.

    Knowing how to eat, what to eat, portion sizes, etc., is important to being at a comfortable weight. There are many food plans and philosophies to help people lose weight and keep it off.

    I personally follow the Weight Watchers lifestyle. I do not eat special packaged foods. I keep a daily diary to keep me on track. I exercise pretty much daily. Attend meetings to keep me accountable. Having some food sensitivities, I am careful to avoid certain foods. My Doctor could not be more pleased as I work daily to keep off the 52 pounds I lost 5 years ago.

    Being obese leads to many health issues that are life threatening such as Diabetes, Heart Disease, Kidney Failure, Joint Problems, Circulatory problems, Breathing problems, and more. Not to mention mental issues involving how one feels about themselves. All these problems are preventable. No one dies because of physical fitness. People die from ailments they had control over, but chose to ignore the signs and their Doctor’s recommendations to living a healthier life.

    Yes, it is maddening.. But if we each do our part to eat healthier, get exercise, live healthier lives, the quality of our lives improve and we spend less money at the Doctor’s office. What I spend on Groceries is money I am not spending because of I’ll health.

  5. Submitted by John DeWitt on 01/03/2019 - 11:20 pm.

    We should be anticipating the impacts of self driving cars. For many people, no distance is too short to drive. My wife’s 350 lb. brother in Memphis, TN, always drove between his house and his parents house, a distance of 300 (three-hundred) feet. It was so ingrained that, on one visit, my wife walked over to her brother’s place and they answered the door asking “Where’s the car?”

    Some people I know are most enthused about the self driving cars ability to drop them off at the front door to where they’re going.

    Researchers in Atlanta have found that people who use transit are healthier than those who drive because at least some walking is involved. The U.S. Surgeon General promotes a “Step it Up” campaign because of the health benefits of walking.

    The self driving car and the anticipated robo-taxis may essentially eliminate the need for people to ever walk again which may lead to an even greater obesity epidemic.

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