Obesity Rates in US Youth, Adults Plateau but Are Still High

Marlene Busko

October 13, 2017

The latest data from the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that 18.5% of children and teens and 39.8% of adults age 20 and older were obese in 2015–2016 — similar figures to 2 years earlier, but still above national targets.

"The observed change in prevalence between 2013–2014 and 2015–2016 was not significant, among both adults and youth [aged 5 to 19]," Craig M Hales and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) report in the October 2017 Data Brief.

However, "the prevalence of obesity in the United States remains higher than the Healthy People 2020 goals of 14.5% among youth and 30.5% among adults," they stress.

Obesity — defined as a body mass index (BMI) > 30 kg/m2 in adults and BMI > 95th percentile for children or teens of the same age and gender — has increased among children, adolescents, and adults in the United States over the past decade but now appears to be leveling off.

Specifically, in 1999–2000, close to a third (30.5%) of adults in the United States were obese, and obesity rates increased significantly at each NHANES survey (done every 2 years) over the next decade.

However, the rise in obesity from 37.7% in 2013–2014 to 39.6% in 2015–2016 was not significant.

Similarly, in 1999–2000, more than one in 10 (13.9%) children and teens in the United States was obese, and these rates continued to climb. However, the increase from 17.2% in 2013–2014 to 18.5% in 2015–2016 was not significant.

Highest Obesity Rates in Middle Age, Blacks, Hispanics, Women

In the most recent NHANES survey, about one in 10 toddlers and two in five middle-aged people in the United States were obese, Dr Hales and colleagues report.

Specifically, obesity rates among 2- to 5-year-olds, 6- to 11-year-olds, and teens increased from 13.9% to 18.4% to 20.6%, respectively.

Among adults, obesity rates increased from 35.7% to 42.8% and then dropped slightly to 41.0% among 20- to 39-year-olds, 40- to 59-year-olds, and people aged 60 and older, respectively.

Black women, Hispanic women, and Hispanic men had higher obesity rates than their peers.

More than half of all adult black women (54.8%) and just over half of all Hispanic women (50.6%) in the United States in 2015–2016 were obese, compared with 38.0% of white women and 14.8% of Asian women.

Among men, 43.1% of Hispanic men vs 37.9% of white men and 36.9% of black men were obese, compared with 10.1% of Asian men.

For children, similar percentages of 2- to 5-year-old boys (14.3%) and girls (13.5%) were obese, but among 6- to 11-year-olds, more boys were obese (20.4%) than girls (16.3%). Obesity rates were similar in adolescent boys (20.2%) and girls (20.9%), with around one in five affected.

By ethnic group, among youth aged 5 to 19, obesity rates were high in Hispanic boys (28%) and girls (23.6%) and black girls (25.1%) and boys (19.0%). Obesity rates were lower in white boys (14.6%) and girls (13.5%) and Asian boys (11.7%) and girls (10.1%).

The high but plateauing obesity rate in children and teens in the US is consistent with findings from a global study reported this week to coincide with World Obesity Day, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

This paper was simultaneously published in the Lancet, and during a press briefing in London earlier this week, lead author Majid Ezzati, PhD, chair in global environmental health, Imperial College London, United Kingdom, said that in high-income countries, mean BMI in children and teens has leveled off, albeit at high levels, since 2000.

In contrast, there have been large increases in rates of overweight and obese children and teens in countries in East Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and North Africa.

National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief. Published October 13, 2017. Article

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