Two reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association provide an update to obesity prevalence in the United States. Based on data from 2007-2008, researchers report that 68 percent of U.S. adults and 32 percent of school-aged U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese. The good news is that trends over the past three decades indicate that the prevalence of overweight and obesity may be leveling off. The bad news is that the numbers themselves remain alarmingly high.
According to these two reports, one-third of adults are obese (defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or more), and 17 percent of children were at or above the 95th percentile of BMI for age, which some consider the equivalent of being obese. These numbers have not fallen in the past decade. The percentage of boys ages 6 to 19 who are in the heaviest category (at or above the 97th percentile of BMI) has increased slightly since 1999-2000. The reports are based on the CDC's long-running National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which estimates obesity rates in the U.S. by tracking the heights and weights of a representative group of thousands of people.
An accompanying editorial in JAMA calls for "a massive public health campaign to raise awareness about the effects of overweight and obesity," noting the success that similar campaigns have had in educating healthcare providers and the public about the health risks of smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The NHLBI has been engaged in proactive education efforts in the area of obesity for many years. NHLBI-driven research translation, and education and outreach campaigns—such as the development of the Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults (currently being updated), We Can!™ (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition) and Aim for a Healthy Weight — continue to reach out to families, communities, and clinicians to encourage healthy-weight lifestyles for Americans of all ages.
As the study authors point out, children with high BMIs often grow up to become adults with high BMIs at risk for health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, so prevention, early recognition and management are essential. The NHLBI continues in its dedication to researching the many biological, environmental, and lifestyle contributors to high BMI, as well as to finding and implementing the best solutions to manage weight and treat weight-related illnesses.