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Obesity Facts And Trends

According to recent studies, about a third of all Americans are obese. The good news is that the upward trend of the previous thirty years leveled off towards the end of the the first decade of this century. The upward trend was slightly higher among men than women.

Hispanics and blacks both have a higher prevalence of obesity than whites, with the greatest prevalences of obesity for both blacks and whites being found in the South and Midwest, and the lowest in the West and Northeast.

Behavior, environment, and genetic factors may all play a part in causing people to be overweight and obese. When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight for a lifetime, the bottom line is calories count! Weight management is all about balance-balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses or "burns off."

The Caloric Balance Equation
  • Overweight and obesity result from an energy imbalance. This involves eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity.
  • Body weight is the result of genes, metabolism, behavior, environment, culture, and socioeconomic status.
  • Behavior and environment play a large role causing people to be overweight and obese. These are the greatest areas for prevention and treatment actions.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight for a lifetime, the bottom line is ... calories count! Weight management is all about balance - balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses or "burns off."

  • A calorie is defined as a unit of energy supplied by food. A calorie is a calorie regardless of its source. Whether you're eating carbohydrates, fats, sugars, or proteins, all of them contain calories.
  • Caloric balance is like a scale. To remain in balance and maintain your body weight, the calories consumed (from foods) must be balanced by the calories used (in normal body functions, daily activities, and exercise).


If you are Your caloric balance status is ...
Maintaining your weight "in balance." You are eating roughly the same number of calories that your body is using. Your weight will remain stable.
Gaining weight "in caloric excess." You are eating more calories than your body is using. You will store these extra calories as fat and you’ll gain weight.
Losing weight "in caloric deficit." You are eating fewer calories than you are using. Your body is pulling from its fat storage cells for energy, so your weight is decreasing.

Q: How many adults age 20 and older are overweight or obese (Body Mass Index, or BMI, > 25)?

A: Over two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese.

All adults: 68 percent
Women: 64.1 percent
Men: 72.3 percent

Q: How many adults age 20 and older are obese (BMI > 30)?

A: Over one-third of U.S. adults are obese.

All adults: 33.8 percent
Women: 35.5 percent
Men: 32.2 percent

Q: How many adults age 20 and older are extremely obese (BMI > 40)?

A: A small percentage of U.S. adults are extremely obese.

All adults: 5.7 percent

Q: How many adults age 20 and older are at a healthy weight (BMI > 18.5 to < 25)?

A: Less than one-third of U.S. adults are at a healthy weight.

All adults: 31.6 percent
Women: 36.5 percent
Men: 26.6 percent

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

A: The prevalence has steadily increased among both genders, all ages, all racial/ethnic groups, all educational levels, and all smoking levels. From 1960 to 2005, the prevalence of obesity increased from 13.4 to 35.1 percent in U.S. adults age 20 to 74. Since 2004, while the prevalence of overweight is still high among men and women, there are no significant differences in prevalence rates documented from 2003 to 2004, 2005 to 2006, and 2007 to 2008. In fact, among women, there has been no change in obesity prevalence between 1999 and 2008.

Q: What is the prevalence of obesity among non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White racial and ethnic groups?

A: Among women, the age-adjusted prevalence of obesity (BMI > 30) in racial and ethnic groups is higher among non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women than among non-Hispanic White women. Among these three groups of men, the difference in prevalence is less significant. In this context, the term Hispanic includes Mexican Americans.

Non-Hispanic Black Women: 49.6 percent
Hispanic Women: 43 percent
Non-Hispanic White Women: 33 percent

Non-Hispanic Black Men: 37.3 percent
Hispanic Men: 34.3 percent
Non-Hispanic White Men: 31.9 percent

Statistics are for populations age 20 and older.

Q:What are the percentage distributions of obesity in other racial and ethnic groups?

A: Gender-specific data for Asian Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders are not available. Following are percent distributions of obesity for men and women in these groups. Rates of obesity among Asian Americans are much lower in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups.

Asian Americans: 8.9 percent
Native Americans and Alaska Natives: 32.4 percent
Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders: 31 percent

The statistics presented in this section for adults and racial and ethnic groups are based on the following definitions unless otherwise specified: healthy weight = BMI > 18.5 to < 25; overweight = BMI > 25 to < 30; obesity = BMI > 30; and extreme obesity = BMI > 40. BMI is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height.

Statistics are for populations age 18 and older.

Overweight and Obesity, by Age: United States, 1971-2006

overweight obesity diagram

(Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey)

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

A: Data from the NHANES survey (2003-2006) indicate that approximately 12.4 percent of children age 2 to 5 and 17 percent of children age 6 to 11 were overweight. About 17.6 percent of adolescents (age 12 to 19) were overweight in 2003-2006.

Overweight is defined by the sex- and age-specific 95th percentile cutoff points of the 2000 CDC growth charts. These revised growth charts include smoothed sex-specific BMI for-age-percentiles and are based on data from NHES II (1963 to 1965) and III (1966 to 1970), and NHANES I (1971 to 1974), II (1976 to 1980), and III (1988 to 1994). The CDC BMI growth charts specifically excluded NHANES III data for children older than 6 years.

Q: What is the mortality rate associated with obesity?

A: Most studies show an increase in mortality rates associated with obesity. Individuals who are obese have a significantly increased risk of death from all causes, compared with healthy weight individuals (BMI 18.5 to 24.9). The increased risk varies by cause of death, and most of this increased risk is due to cardiovascular causes. Obesity is associated with over 112,000 excess deaths due to cardiovascular disease, over 15,000 excess deaths due to cancer, and over 35,000 excess deaths due to non-cancer, non-cardiovascular disease causes per year in the U.S. population, relative to healthy-weight individuals.

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