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October 4, 2000
Contact: Tim Hensley
CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention &
Health Promotion
(770) 488–5820
CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 639–3286


Obesity Continues Climb in 1999 Among American Adults

The prevalence of obesity in the United States continued to grow in 1999, representing a serious public health threat to millions of Americans, according to a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) letter to the editor published in the October 4, 2000 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Obesity rose 6 percent nationally between 1998 and 1999, and the increase affected all regions and demographic groups and most states in the United States. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher. A BMI of 30 in most cases means an individual is about 30 pounds overweight. Since 1991, obesity among adults has increased by nearly 60 percent nationally.


"The continuing epidemic of obesity is a critical public health problem," said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "As a nation, we need to respond as vigorously to this epidemic as we do to an infectious disease epidemic." Dr. Koplan said that national efforts were needed to encourage physical activity and better nutrition and conduct research to identify effective educational, behavioral, and environmental approaches to control and prevent obesity.


Certain subgroups had increases in obesity that exceeded the national rate. For example, individuals 30-39 years of age had a 10 percent increase in obesity between 1998 and 1999. A recent study by CDC found that diabetes in this same age group increased by 70 percent in the 1990s. In addition, between 1998 and 1999, the researchers found a 10 percent increase in obesity among individuals with some college education, compared to a 6 percent increase among those with a high school education.

"As obesity rates continue to grow at epidemic proportions in this country, the net effect will be dramatic increases in related chronic health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the future," said Dr. Koplan. CDC recently reported that diabetes increased by 33 percent among adults during the 1990s, which reflects the surge in the obesity epidemic during that same period.


Between 1998 and 1999, among racial/ethnic populations, the largest increase was found among whites, who had a 7 percent increase in obesity.

These data are self-reported prevalence of obesity derived from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a standardized telephone survey conducted by state health agencies in collaboration with CDC. In 1999, a total of nearly 150,000 individuals from all states completed the BRFSS survey.

Overweight and physical inactivity account for more than 300,000 premature deaths each year in the U.S., second only to tobacco-related deaths.

In order to control the obesity epidemic CDC suggests several approaches: health care providers must counsel their obese patients; workplaces should offer healthy food choices in their cafeterias and provide opportunities for employees to be physically active on site; schools should offer more physical education that encourages lifelong physical activity; urban policymakers should provide more sidewalks, bike paths, and other alternatives to cars; and parents should reduce their children's TV and computer time and encourage outdoor play. In addition to proper nutrition, it is important to restore physical activity to daily routines to promote health. Just 30 minutes each day of moderate physical activity improves health.

To obtain electronic copies of the maps and tables on the 1999 obesity information, please call the press contacts listed above. For more information about nutrition and physical activity, call toll-free 1-888-CDC-4NRG or visit the CDC’s nutrition and physical activity website at

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This page last reviewed October 5, 2000

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