Stalled Progress in Obesity Battle

High obesity rates show no major change in the United States

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Getting people to trim down is one of the most urgent disease-fighting and overall good health goals of our times. With only limited progress on that front, the weight loss battle continues.

Many adults, youths and toddlers still were carrying more weight than is considered healthy, according to the most recent annual study conducted by the federal government.

The same study showed that, except among two narrow sub-groups, US obesity rates had barely budged over a period of about 10 years.

"Healthy eating and exercise are essential weight loss tools."

Cynthia L. Ogden, PhD, a disease researcher at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) office in Hyattsville, MD, was this study’s lead author.

That yearly study, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NANES), tracked obesity in 2011-2012 among 9,120 persons, a sample that these researchers said reflected trends throughout the entire US population.

These researchers found that 34.9 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of individuals aged 2 through 19 were obese. That determination was based on adults having a body mass index (BMI) equal to or greater than 30. BMI is a measurement of a person's body composition. A normal BMI is between 18.5 – 24.9.

Additionally, when the survey combined the number of people who were obese with those who were overweight but not officially obese, the figures for adults and youths roughly doubled. Among youth, 31.8 percent were either obese or overweight. Among adults, the same figure was 68.5 percent, more than two thirds of the grown-up population.

Also, on average, 8.1 percent of infants through 2-year-old children had a weight that was considered too high for their height. Broken down by sex, 5 percent of infant and toddler boys and 11.4 percent of girls of the same age weighed too much for their height.

Taken together, all the numbers suggest that there was no significant overall change in overweight rates from 2003-2004 through 2011-2012, according to these researchers. However, there were some marked changes in obesity rates in two sub-groups. During 2011-2012, 38 percent of women aged 60 and older were obese. That compared to a 31.5 percent obesity rate among the same group in 2003-2004.

During 2011-2012, 8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds were determined to be obese, a decline of 6 percentage points from 2003-2004 when 14 percent of children in that age range were obese.

Government officials and other health watchers have been heavily focused on obesity, especially obesity among children. Previous studies have suggested that overweight children are more likely than non-overweight children to be overweight adults. And obesity is a main driver of a range of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Among other initiatives targeting childhood obesity, these researchers cited US Department of Agriculture rules requiring that food labels list the amount of calories in food items and foods' nutritional value, and such CDC programs as ones to help states and counties, for example, install vending machines with healthy food options and encourage more obesity prevention programs where people work.

Previous research from Dr. Ogden and her research colleagues found that obesity rates had stayed at roughly the same levels between 2003-2004 and 2009-2010.

“Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance,” Dr. Ogden and team concluded.

This study was published online February 24 in JAMA.

These researchers had access to the data, which the US Department of Health and Human Services compiled.

The researchers reported that they had no financial investments or involvement that could shape study design, analysis or outcomes.

Review Date: 
February 24, 2014
Last Updated:
February 25, 2014