Prevalence of Overweight in the U.S.

The negative effect of obesity on mortality and morbidity is due, at least in part, to its association with conditions such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus, gallbladder disease, respiratory disease, and some types of cancer. Using data from national surveys, an increasing prevalence of overweight among children, adolescents, and adults was demonstrated during the years 1976-1991. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III, 1988-1994) used body mass index (BMI) to stratify weight status. Children were classified as overweight when BMI was greater than or equal to the 95th percentile established in previous similar national surveys. Adults were classified as overweight when BMI was greater than or equal to 27.8 for men, and 27.3 for women, which is equal to the 85th percentile of persons aged 20-29 in the preceding NHANES II survey.

Approximately 14% of children and 12% of adolescents were overweight. In the adult population, 33% of men and 36% of women were overweight.

These data, when compared with previous surveys, show that the prevalence of overweight has consistently risen from 1976 to 1994. These same surveys show a fairly stable level of leisure time physical activity, but editorial opinion suggests that perhaps decreased energy expenditures in other types of physical activity may be responsible for decreased energy demand. In light of the limited success of current therapeutic measures, efforts toward prevention must be addressed with increased attention.

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 1997;46:199-202.