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Statistics Related To Overweight and Obesity*

* Source: United States National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health
NIDDK Weight-Control Information Network

 

Nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight, and 30.5 percent are obese, according to data from the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). This fact sheet presents statistics on the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the U.S., as well as their disease, mortality, and economic costs. To understand these statistics, it is necessary to know how overweight and obesity are defined and measured. This fact sheet also explains why statistics from different sources may not match.

Overweight and obesity are known risk factors for:

  • diabetes

  • heart disease

  • stroke

  • hypertension

  • gallbladder disease

  • osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and bone of joints)

  • sleep apnea and other breathing problems

  • some forms of cancer (uterine, breast, colorectal, kidney, and gallbladder)

Obesity is also associated with:

  • high blood cholesterol

  • complications of pregnancy

  • menstrual irregularities

  • hirsutism (presence of excess body and facial hair)

  • stress incontinence (urine leakage caused by weak pelvic-floor muscles)

  • psychological disorders such as depression

  • increased surgical risk

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What are overweight and obesity?

Overweight refers to an excess of body weight compared to set standards. The excess weight may come from muscle, bone, fat, and/or body water. Obesity refers specifically to having an abnormally high proportion of body fat.[1] A person can be overweight without being obese, as in the example of a bodybuilder or other athlete who has a lot of muscle. However, many people who are overweight are also obese.

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How are overweight and obesity measured?

A number of methods are used to determine if someone is overweight or obese. Some are based on the relation between height and weight; others are based on measurements of body fat. The most commonly used method today is body mass index (BMI).

BMI can be used to screen for both overweight and obesity in adults. It is the measurement of choice for many obesity researchers and other health professionals, as well as the definition used in most published information on overweight and obesity. BMI is a calculation based on height and weight, and it is not gender-specific. BMI does not directly measure percent of body fat, but it is a more accurate indicator of overweight and obesity than relying on weight alone.

BMI is found by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. The mathematical formula is:
weight (kg) / height squared (m²).

To determine BMI using pounds and inches, multiply your weight in pounds by 704.5,* then divide the result by your height in inches, and divide that result by your height in inches a second time. (Or you can use the BMI calculator at http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/, or check the chart shown below that has calculated BMI for you.)

* The multiplier 704.5 is used by the National Institutes of Health. Other organizations may use a slightly different multiplier; for example, the American Dietetic Association suggests multiplying by 700. The variation in outcome (a few tenths) is insignificant.

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Body Mass Index Table

To use the table, find the appropriate height in the left-hand column labeled Height. Move across to a given weight. The number at the top of the column is the BMI at that height and weight. Pounds have been rounded off.

 

BMI

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

Weight
(Pounds)

Height
(Inches)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

58

91

96

100

105

110

115

119

124

129

134

138

143

148

153

158

162

167

172

177

181

186

191

59

94

99

104

109

114

119

124

128

133

138

143

148

153

158

163

168

173

178

183

188

193

198

60

97

102

107

112

118

123

128

133

138

143

148

153

158

163

168

174

179

184

189

194

199

204

61

100

106

111

116

122

127

132

137

143

148

153

158

164

169

174

180

185

190

195

201

206

211

62

104

109

115

120

126

131

136

142

147

153

158

164

169

175

180

186

191

196

202

207

213

218

63

107

113

118

124

130

135

141

146

152

158

163

169

175

180

186

191

197

203

208

214

220

225

64

110

116

122

128

134

140

145

151

157

163

169

174

180

186

192

197

204

209

215

221

227

232

65

114

120

126

132

138

144

150

156

162

168

174

180

186

192

198

204

210

216

222

228

234

240

66

118

124

130

136

142

148

155

161

167

173

179

186

192

198

204

210

216

223

229

235

241

247

67

121

127

134

140

146

153

159

166

172

178

185

191

198

204

211

217

223

230

236

242

249

255

68

125

131

138

144

151

158

164

171

177

184

190

197

204

210

216

223

230

236

243

249

256

262

69

128

135

142

149

155

162

169

176

182

189

196

203

210

216

223

230

236

243

250

257

263

270

70

132

139

146

153

160

167

174

181

188

195

202

209

216

222

229

236

243

250

257

264

271

278

71

136

143

150

157

165

172

179

186

193

200

208

215

222

229

236

243

250

257

265

272

279

286

72

140

147

154

162

169

177

184

191

199

206

213

221

228

235

242

250

258

265

272

279

287

294

73

144

151

159

166

174

182

189

197

204

212

219

227

235

242

250

257

265

272

280

288

295

302

74

148

155

163

171

179

186

194

202

210

218

225

233

241

249

256

264

272

280

287

295

303

311

75

152

160

168

176

184

192

200

208

216

224

232

240

248

256

264

272

279

287

295

303

311

319

76

156

164

172

180

189

197

205

213

221

230

238

246

254

263

271

279

287

295

304

312

320

328

An expert panel convened by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in cooperation with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified overweight as a BMI of 25–29.9 kg/m², and obesity as a BMI of 30 kg/m² or greater. However, overweight and obesity are not mutually exclusive, since people who are obese are also overweight.[1] Defining overweight as a BMI of 25 or greater is consistent with the recommendations of the World Health Organization [2] and most other countries.

Calculating BMI is simple, quick, and inexpensive—but it does have limitations. One problem with using BMI as a measurement tool is that very muscular people may fall into the “overweight” category when they are actually healthy and fit. Another problem with using BMI is that people who have lost muscle mass, such as the elderly, may be in the “healthy weight” category—according to their BMI—when they actually have reduced nutritional reserves. BMI, therefore, is useful as a general guideline to monitor trends in the population, but by itself is not diagnostic of an individual patient’s health status. Further evaluation of a patient should be performed to determine his or her weight status and associated health risks.

For more information on measuring overweight and obesity, see Weight and Waist Measurement: Tools for Adults.

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Why do statistics about overweight and obesity differ?

The definitions or measurement characteristics for overweight and obesity have varied over time, from study to study, and from one part of the world to another. The varied definitions affect prevalence statistics and make it difficult to compare data from different studies. Prevalence refers to the total number of existing cases of a disease or condition in a given population at a given time. Some overweight- and obesity-related prevalence rates are presented as crude or unadjusted estimates, while others are age-adjusted estimates. Unadjusted prevalence estimates are used to present cross-sectional data for population groups at a given point or time period. For age-adjusted rates, statistical procedures are used to remove the effect of age differences in populations that are being compared over different time periods. Unadjusted estimates and age-adjusted estimates will yield slightly different values.

Previous studies in the United States have used the 1959 or the 1983 Metropolitan Life Insurance tables of desirable weight-for-height as the reference for overweight.[3] More recently, many Government agencies and scientific health organizations have estimated overweight using data from a series of cross-sectional surveys called the National Health Examination Surveys (NHES) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES). The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted these surveys. Each had three cycles: NHES I, II, and III spanned the period from 1960 to 1970, and NHANES I, II, and III were conducted in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and early 1990’s. Since 1999, NHANES has become a continuous survey.

Many reports in the literature use a statistically derived definition of overweight from NHANES II (1976–1980). This definition (based on the gender-specific 85th percentile values of BMI for 20 to 29 year olds) is a BMI greater than or equal to (>) 27.3 for women and 27.8 for men. NHANES II further defines “severe overweight” (based on 95th percentile values) as BMI > 31.1 for men and BMI > 32.2 for women.[4] Some studies round these numbers to a whole number, which affects the statistical prevalence. In 1995, the World Health Organization recommended a classification for three “grades” of overweight using BMI cutoff points of 25, 30, and 40.[5] The International Obesity Task Force suggested an additional cutoff point of 35 and slightly different terminology.[6]

The expert panel convened by NHLBI and NIDDK released a report in June 1998, that provided definitions for overweight and obesity similar to those used by the World Health Organization. The panel identified overweight as a BMI > 25 to less than (<)30, and obesity as a BMI > 30. These definitions, widely used by the Federal government and increasingly by the broader medical and scientific communities, are based on evidence that health risks increase more steeply in individuals with a BMI > 25.

BMI cutoff points are a guide for definitions of overweight and obesity and are useful for comparative purposes across populations and over time; however, the health risks associated with overweight and obesity are on a continuum and do not necessarily correspond to rigid cutoff points. For example, an overweight individual with a BMI of 29 does not acquire additional health consequences associated with obesity simply by crossing the BMI threshold > 30. However, health risks generally increase with increasing BMI.

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Prevelance statistics related to overweight and obesity*

* The statistics presented here are based on the following definitions unless otherwise specified: overweight = BMI> 25 to < 30; obesity = BMI > 30.


Overweight and obesity are found worldwide, and the prevalence of these conditions in the United States ranks high along with other developed nations. Approximately 300,000 adult deaths in the United States each year are attributable to unhealthy dietary habits and physical inactivity or sedentary behavior.[7]

Below are some frequently asked questions and answers about overweight and obesity statistics. Data are based on NHANES 1999-2000. Unless otherwise specified, the figures given represent age-adjusted estimates. Population numbers are based on the U.S. Census Bureau Census 2000.

Q: How many adults are overweight?

A: Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight (BMI > 25, which includes those who are obese).[8]

All adults (20+ years old): 129.6 million (64.5 percent)
Women (20+ years old): 64.5 million (61.9 percent)
Men (20+ years old): 65.1 million (67.2 percent)

 

Q: How many adults are obese?

A: Nearly one-third of U.S. adults are obese (BMI > 30).[8]

All adults (20+ years old): 61.3 million (30.5 percent)
Women (20+ years old): 34.7 million (33.4 percent)
Men (20+ years old): 26.6 million (27.5 percent)

 

Q: How many adults are at a healthy weight?

A: Less than half of U.S. adults have a healthy weight (BMI > 18.5 to < 25).[9]

All adults (20-74 years old): 67.3 million (33.5 percent)
Women (20-74 years old): 36.7 million (35.3 percent)
Men (20-74 years old): 30.6 million (31.8 percent)

 

Q: How has the prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults changed over the years?

A: The prevalence has steadily increased over the years among both genders, all ages, all racial/ethnic groups, all educational levels, and all smoking levels.10 From 1960 to 2000, the prevalence of overweight (BMI > 25 to < 30) increased from 31.5 to 33.6 percent in U.S. adults aged 20 to 74.[9] The prevalence of obesity (BMI > 30) during this same time period more than doubled from 13.3 to 30.9 percent, with most of this rise occurring in the past 20 years.8 From 1988 to 2000, the prevalence of extreme obesity (BMI > 40)increased from 2.9 to 4.7 percent, up from 0.8 percent in 1960.3,8 In 1991, four states had obesity rates of 15 percent or higher, and none had obesity rates above 16 percent. By 2000, every state except Colorado had obesity rates of 15 percent or more, and 22 states had obesity rates of 20 percent or more.11 The prevalence of overweight and obesity generally increases with advancing age, then starts to decline among people over 60.[3]

 

Q: What is the prevalence of overweight and obesity in minorities?

A: The age-adjusted prevalence of combined overweight and obesity (BMI > 25) in racial/ethnic minorities—especially minority women—is generally higher than in whites in the United States.[8]

Non-Hispanic Black women: 77.3%
Mexican American women: 71.9%
Non-Hispanic White women: 57.3%
Non-Hispanic Black men: 60.7%
Mexican American men: 74.7%
Non-Hispanic White men: 67.4%

(Statistics are for populations 20+ years old)

Studies using this definition of overweight and obesity provide ethnicity-specific data only for these three racial-ethnic groups. Studies using definitions of overweight and obesity from NHANES II have reported a high prevalence of overweight and obesity among Hispanics and American Indians. The prevalence of overweight (BMI > 25) and obesity (BMI > 30) in Asian Americans is lower than in the population as a whole.[1]


 

Figure 1. Age-adjusted prevalence of overweight (BMI 25-29.9) and obesity (BMI > 30)

Bar chart showing the increase in overweight and obesity for men and women from 1960 to 2000

Source: CDC/NCHS, Health, United States, 2000

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* Overweight is defined by the sex- and age-specific 95th percentile cutoff points of the revised NCHS/CDC growth charts. The revised growth charts incorporate smoothed BMI percentiles and are based on data from NHES II (1963-65) and III (1966-1970), and NHANES I (1971-1974), II (1976-1980), and III (1988-1994); the CDC BMI growth charts specifically excluded NHANES III data for children ages > 6 years.13


Q: What is the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents?

A: While there is no generally accepted definition for obesity as distinct from overweight in children and adolescents, the prevalence of overweight* is increasing for children and adolescents in the United States. Approximately 15.3 percent of children (ages 6–11) and 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12–19) were overweight in 2000. An additional 15 percent of children and 14.9 percent of adolescents were at risk for overweight (BMI for age between the 85th and 95th percentile).[12]

 

Q: What is the prevalence of diabetes in people who are overweight or obese?

A: Among people diagnosed with type 2 (noninsulin-dependent) diabetes, 67 percent have a BMI > 27 and 46 percent have a BMI > 30.[14] About 17 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes, accounting for more than 90 percent of diabetes cases.[15] An additional 20 million have impaired glucose tolerance, sometimes called pre-diabetes, which is a strong risk factor for developing diabetes later in life. An estimated 70 percent of diabetes risk in the U.S. can be attributed to excess weight.[16] For more statistics on diabetes, go to: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/statistics/index.htm.

 

Q: What is the prevalence of hypertension (high blood pressure) in people who are overweight or obese?

A: The age-adjusted prevalence of hypertension in overweight U.S. adults is 22.1 percent for men with BMI Ž 25 and < 27; 27.0 percent for men with BMI > 27 and < 30; 27.7 percent for women with BMI > 25 and < 27; and 32.7 percent for women BMI > 27 and < 30. In comparison, the prevalence of hypertension in adults who are not overweight (BMI <25) is 14.9 percent for men and 15.2 percent for women. The prevalence in adults who are obese (BMI > 30) is 41.9 percent for men and 37.8 percent for women.17 (Hypertension is defined as mean systolic blood pressure > 140 mm Hg, mean diastolic > 90 mm Hg, or currently taking antihypertensive medication.)

 

Q: What is the prevalence of high blood cholesterol in people who are overweight or obese?

A: The age-adjusted prevalence of high blood cholesterol (> 240 mg/dL) in overweight U.S. adults is 19.1 percent for men with BMI > 25 and < 27; 21.6 percent for men with BMI > 27