US Adult Obesity Rate Jumped Over Last 20 Years

Marcia Frellick

March 15, 2018

Stark increases in obesity and diagnosed diabetes over the last 20 years are among the standout numbers in an early-release report unveiled today by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The prevalence of obesity in US adults was 19.4% in 1997 and increased steadily to 31.4% in 2017. Likewise, the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes went from 5.1% in 1997 to 9.5% in 2017.

Trending in the opposite direction, the number of current adult cigarette smokers, defined as those who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and now smoke every day or some days, fell from 24.7% to 14.1%.

The 15 measures in the report include prevalence of obesity and diagnosed diabetes, current cigarette smoking, HIV testing, serious psychological distress in the past 30 days, people who have a usual place to go for care, lack of health insurance coverage and type of coverage, obtaining needed medical care, influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations, leisure-time physical activity, alcohol consumption, general health status, personal care needs, and asthma episodes and current asthma.

The report was written by Jeannine S Schiller, MPH, and colleagues at the Division of Health Interview Statistics at NCHS.

The table below highlights some of the good and bad news:

Table. Selected Changes in Past 20 Years for US Adults

Health Measure (Age 18 Years and Over) 1997 (%) 2017 (%)
Obesity prevalence (age 20 y and over) 19.4 31.4
Prevalence of diagnosed diabetes 5.1 9.5
Cigarette smokinga 24.7 14.1
Uninsured (age 18 - 64 y) 18.9 12.7
Ever been tested for HIV 31.8 41.1
Experienced serious psychological distress in the past 30 d 3.3 3.4
Usual place to go for care (all ages) 86.2 88.5
a Defined as those who had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and now smoke every day or some days.

The NCHS report also broke down measures by age, race/ethnicity, and sex.

Hispanics Much More Likely to Be Uninsured

For the most current period, from January to September 2017, after adjustment for age and sex, the breakdown of those uninsured at the time of interview by race and ethnicity was 19% for Hispanics, 9.6% for non-Hispanic blacks, and 6.3% for non-Hispanic whites.

By age, the most dramatic change over 20 years for all uninsured Americans was in the under-18 group. In 1997, 9.9% of all US children were uninsured and that dropped to 3.6% in 2017.

Whites were about twice as likely as black adults to have had at least one heavy drinking day in the past year. The breakdown was 31.6% for non-Hispanic whites, 14.8% for non-Hispanic blacks, and 22% for Hispanics.

Non-Hispanic black adults were more likely to have ever gotten tested for HIV (61.1%), age- and sex-adjusted numbers show. Next were Hispanics, at 47.2%, and non-Hispanic whites, at 38.7%.

Uptake of the influenza vaccine increases with age, according to the report. In the third quarter of 2017, the percentage of people age 65 years and older who received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months was 69%, twice the percentage of those age 18 to 49 years (34.8%). In the middle were those aged 50 to 64 years; 44.2% of them got the flu shot.

Overall, non-Hispanic whites, after adjustment for age and sex, were most likely to report excellent or very good health, at 71%; followed by Hispanic people, at 61.8%; and non-Hispanic black people, at 59.8%.

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