Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Column Archive |  On Twitter: J Huget and MisFits  |  Fitness & Nutrition News  |  RSS Feeds RSS Feed

Obesity epidemic slows

The nation's obesity epidemic appears finally to be slowing.

The latest federal data shows that the rate at which adults and children are becoming obese has leveled off, according to a pair of papers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The rate at which Americans have been becoming obese rose steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s, causing widespread alarm that the nation's girth would lead to an epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other health problems. But there have been clues that the seemingly inexorable rise might be slowing.

In the new research, Cynthia Ogden of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and her colleagues analyzed data collected through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing survey of thousands of Americans that includes directly measuring height and weight.

The new analysis, which included data from 5,555 adult men and women included in the latest survey conducted in 2007 and 2008, confirmed that more than one-third of adults are obese overall. But the prevalence of obesity did not increase significantly for women since the last survey--confirming a plateau that showed up in the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 surveys. And there was no statistically significant change in the obesity rate for women over the 10-year period between 1999 and 2008. Among men, there was a significant increase overall during this period, but no clear sign of an increase since the 2003-2004 survey.

A separate analysis of data collected from 3,281 children ages 2 to 19 and 719 infants and toddlers from birth to age 2 similarly found that the prevalence of those whose body weight was above normal has remained relatively stable over the past 10 years. The one exception was for boys ages 6 to 19 who were the heaviest. Their rate continues to rise.

Skeptics seized on the data as evidence that the concerns about obesity have been exaggerated. For example, Paul Ernsberger of Case Western Reserve School of Medicine says the new data is much more reliable than other estimates based on telephone interviews that officials have repeatedly used to make dire predictions about obesity rates rising with no end in sight.

But the researchers who conducted the new studies and other experts are warning that it's far from time to declare victory. William Dietz of the CDC, for example, notes that the proportion of Americans who are obese remains high -- at more than a third -- and there continue to be worrisome trends. For example, while the overall proportion of children who are obese appears to have stopped increasing, the proportion of the heaviest boys who are becoming very obese continues to increase.

Dietz and others, however, said that slowing the trend was at least a start, and may be due to a combination of factors, including people finally starting to get the message that they need to watch what they eat.

But Barry Popkin, an obesity expert at the University of North Carolina, wonders if the plateau in the proportion of people who are becoming obese will continue. He notes that it coincided with jump in food prices and the recession, which could have just temporarily affected eating habits.

By Rob Stein  |  January 13, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: One Big Happy Family: Watch this, then let's talk
Next: Cadmium facts


The trend is slowing because the majority of people that might become obese are already obese.

Posted by: lauther266 | January 13, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm convinced that it's the recession causing a slowdown in restaurant dining. Eating out, except in the super-high-end temples of cutting-edge gastronomy, is a guaranteed ticket to obesity. And during the boom a lot of people were doing it nearly every night of the week.

There are other culprits (junk food that's engineered to be addictive, neighborhoods with no sidewalks, the stress of working superlong hours), but I'd guess restaurant eating is what has changed the most, for the better, in the recession.

Posted by: csdiego | January 13, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

People know they need to eat less and that they need more exercise. But not enough people know that they need to change what the eat. Simply put, they need to have diets that consist more of actual food and less of processed pseudo-food.

The human body hasn't evolved to process the kinds of "food" products that have made up more and more of our diet since WWII. In the meantime, that stuff is killing us.

Anyone who suffers from obesity or knows someone who does should read "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan and look for his "Food Rules" coming out very soon. If the new book is anything like "Defense" the Rules he lays out should be easy for anyone to follow.

It boils down to: Eat like your (or somebody's) great-grandparents did. They knew better because their ancestors learned and kept passing the knowledge down. We tossed that hard-earned knowledge aside around 1945 in favor of "scientific nutrition" and we're still paying it with our health and our lives.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | January 13, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Of course obesity rates are declining. We are in a recession. Duh. People don't have the money they had three or four years ago, or anyway feel that they don't. In bubble years, the good times rolled and people ate out often. Now, not so much so. Look at the restaurants, which are half empty.

Posted by: edwardallen54 | January 13, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Obesity is disproportionately concentrated in lower income households. If anything, during a recession we might expect a rise in obesity as people shift towards cheap high calorie, low nutrition options. People were not getting obese from trips to Minibar, Rasika or Inn at Little Washington.

Posted by: audacitea | January 13, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm not talking about Minibar or Rasika, more like Ruby Tuesday, PF Chang's, the Cheesecake Factory, the kinds of chains that serve prepackaged meals two and three times as big as they need to be formulated by food scientists to maximize the addictive power of sugar + salt + fat.

Posted by: csdiego | January 13, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

The biggest factor in obesity for both the USA and Mexico is High Fructose Corn Syrup. Coke and Pepsi and many other soft drinks switched to HFCS about 35 years ago because it was cheaper than sugar and subsidized by Congress in their farm bills.

We are paying for the manufacture of this poison which causes obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Both Americans and Mexicans gulp huge quantities of cheap soft drinks. That is why the Mexicans are the 2nd fattest nation right behind us. They also have skyrocketing diabetes rates.

Posted by: alance | January 13, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

There are a lot of theories mentioned here: the recession; high fructose corn syrup; processed "addictive" non-foods: high stress lifestyles, etc. The truth is it is unclear why so many folks are so fat now as compared to the past. Maybe there are several factors including some of the above. When I was a kid we played outside a lot, running, swimming, skating. Portion sizes were much smaller (we hadn't heard of "supersize me"), and recess or P.E. with sports was part of all school curricula. Now, kids sit in front of computers, use cellphones too much and watch TV much more, I believe. Yes, we should eat healthier foods, move more, and cut down on portion sizes. The jury is out on "exact" causes of obesity in my book. But our mothers were right: eat your vegetables and dessert only once a week.

Posted by: babsygee2 | January 13, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

It's funny how this research concluded that obesity is slowing down, when another recent study (using the same NHANES data) concluded that while "overweight" is plateauing, "obese" shows no sign of slowing down

Link to this research -

Posted by: synergymindandbody | January 14, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

The best effort in my opinon, as a physician, to control childhood obesity is to teach kids to eat healthy and there is increasing evidence that it may be best to teach parents to enable them teach the kids in turn. Treating obesity in parents, especially where geneticity plays a vital cause, can be a very effective way of preventing and managing weight in their kids. To learn more about Obesity controlling resources, check my blog,

Dr. Arya Sharma, is Professor of Medicine & Chair for Cardiovascular Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta, Canada

Posted by: DrAryaSharma | January 20, 2010 11:59 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company