Obesity rates in US steady over past 10 years

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Body mass index Obesity

New data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that obesity rates have not increased, but remained steady over the past 10 years.

Obesity is often referred to as a growing problem but a recent examination of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) castes doubt on this assumption.


Researchers led by Katherine Flegal from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found no statistically significant changes for women over the 10 years from 1999 to 2008. And for men, the data revealed a statistically significant increase over the same period but estimates for 2003-2004, 2005-2006, and 2007-2008 did not differ significantly from each other.

As for children and teens, there were no statistically significant trends from 1999 to 2008, except at the very top end among the heaviest boys aged 6 to 19.

This data could suggest that the obesity problem has peaked in the US but the figures will now need to fall significantly before weight falls off the political agenda.

Based on a definition of obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher, the NHANES data suggests the overall prevalence of obesity was 33.8 percent in 2007-2008. And the number of Americans who are obese or overweight, defined as having a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9), was 68 percent.


Commenting in the JAMA on the findings, Michael Gaziano, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said they may offer some good news as far as trends are concerned, but insisted that obesity is still a serious problem in the US.

Gaziano said: “Given the risk of obesity-related major health problems, a massive public health campaign to raise awareness about the effects of overweight and obesity is necessary.”

“The longer the delay in taking aggressive action, the higher the likelihood that the significant progress achieved in decreasing chronic disease rates during the last 40 years will be negated, possibly even with a decrease in life expectancy.”

But for the Democracy Institute, a free market think tank, the new data in the JAMA exposes the myth of the obesity epidemic.

Democracy Institute director Patrick Basham, who is also a lecturer in health policy at John Hopkins University, and controversial pro-tobacco campaigner John Luik penned a comment saying the figures “completely undermine the claims of an obesity epidemic.”

The two free market thinkers, who co-authored Diet Nation: Exposing the Obesity Crusade”​ with tobacco industry lobbyist Gio Gori, claim the steady levels of obesity show that government is trying to impose regulations to cure an illusionary disease.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association
JAMA. 2010;303(3):235-241 (doi:10.1001/jama.2009.2014)
“Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults 1999-2008”
Authors: Katherine M. Flegal; Margaret D. Carroll; Cynthia L. Ogden; et al.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association
JAMA. 2010;303(3):242-249 (doi:10.1001/jama.2009.2012)
“Prevalence of High Body Mass Index in US Children and Adolescents, 2007-2008”
Authors: Cynthia L. Ogden; Margaret D. Carroll; Lester R. Curtin; et al.

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