New CDC Report Analyzes Patterns of Body Weight in US Adults

Striking differences by race, ethnicity, gender and education

For Release: September 6, 2002

Contact: NCHS/CDC Public Affairs, (301) 458-4800


Body Weight Status of Adults: United States, 1997-98. Advance Data No. 330. 16 pp. (PHS) 2002-1250. [PDF – 463 KB]

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzes patterns of body weight for the U.S. adult population. Based on self-reported height and weight collected in CDC’s National Health Interview Survey, the report classifies adults by relative body weight (underweight, healthy weight, overweight and obese).

The 1997-98 survey found that more than one-half of adults were overweight (including about 20 percent who were obese), about 40 percent were at a healthy weight, and only 2 percent were considered underweight, according to standard body mass index classifications.

The survey documented significant differences for population subgroups, defined by race, ethnicity, age, gender, education, income and marital status. There were variations by geographic region of the country as well.

Some of the key differences noted:

  • Men were considerably more likely than women to be overweight, 63 percent compared to 47 percent, but no difference was found in the prevalence of obesity.
  • Women were more likely than to be of a healthy weight and four times as likely to be underweight.
  • Young adults (18-24 years of age) were significantly less likely than older adults to be overweight; middle-aged men and women, the most likely. Among adults aged 45-64, about seven in 10 men and almost six in 10 women were overweight.
  • The youngest adults (ages 18-24) and the oldest (65 and over) were about twice as likely as adults in other age groups to be underweight.
  • Overweight was about twice as prevalent among black non-Hispanic (66 percent) and Hispanic adults (62 percent) than among Asian/Pacific Islanders (32 percent). Slightly more than half of white non-Hispanic adults were overweight.
  • About six in 10 adults who did not graduate from a high school were overweight, compared with about four in 10 who had a college graduate degree.
  • Men with incomes below the poverty level were somewhat less likely than men in the highest income group to be overweight. In contrast, women living below or just above the poverty level were more likely to be overweight than women with higher incomes.
  • Married men were less likely–but married women more likely–to be in the healthy weight range than those who were single, separated or divorced.
  • Adults in the Western region of the United States were less likely to be overweight or obese.

Height and weight data are collected in the National Health Interview Survey to study the associations between relative body weight status and a variety of other health characteristics, including health limitations, chronic conditions, injuries, health care and other health-related behaviors. The categories of body mass index used in this analysis are consistent with standard BMI classifications, with obese adults defined as those with a BMI of 30 or greater; adults who were overweight but not obese had a BMI of greater than or equal to 25 and less than 30; healthy weight adults had a BMI of greater than or equal to 18.50 and less than 25 and adults who were underweight had a BMI of less than 18.50.

The survey is conducted annually through interviews in about 40,000 households, to reach a sample of the nation’s civilian, noninstitutionalized population. For more information on the survey conducted by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics or to view and download a copy of “Body Weight Status of Adults: United States, 1997-98,” by Charlotte Schoenborn, Patricia Adams, and Patricia Barnes visit the NCHS Web site.

CDC protects people’s health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national and international organizations.