1990s Youth Weight Boom

Obesity epidemic started 30 years ago

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Lifestyle and food choices have been blamed for the obesity epidemic. While it may be true that those factors are to blame, this hasn’t been an overnight trend.

There’s more to the obesity problem than just what’s happening now — the past is just as important. A new study finds evidence that weight gain for teens and young adults started 30 years ago.

"It’s important to educate teens about healthy living."

Study co-author, Kathleen Mullan Harris, Ph.D., a sociologist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studied weight changes in young people over a 50-year period. According to the study, females are at greater risk of gaining weight than males, and African-American females are at even higher risk.

The study evaluated body mass index (BMI), which is a measurement that takes into account height, weight, age and gender. An individual is considered overweight with a BMI of 25 and obese with a BMI of 30 and up.

The average BMI for all participants increased from 22 in the first few decades of the study to 24.5 by the 2000s. This value does not indicate that participants in the study were overweight or obese.

However, researchers did find the average weight for an 18 year old female rose from 132 pounds to 147 pounds, and the average weight of an 18 year old male increased from 149 pounds to 166 pounds.

So while this study did not indicate teens were overweight or obese, it did show that teens started adding on the pounds as early as 1990. Harris considers this early weight gain as the “weight boom” that kick-started the overweight and obesity problems we have today.

This study shows that preventative measures and messages need to focus on teens and young people to help them mature into healthier adults, Harris suggests.

The researchers analyzed data from nationwide surveys during 1952 to 2002. The surveys focused mainly on whites, African Americans and Hispanics between the ages of 12 and 26.

The research is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 14, 2011
Last Updated:
July 17, 2011