Prevalence of Overweight Among Adolescents – United States, 1988-91

For Release November 10, 1994

The proportion of overweight adolescents in the United States increased to 21 percent in the survey period 1988-91, according to data released by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala.

Secretary Shalala said, “It is clear that too many of our teenagers are overweight because they are inactive. Another recent Centers for Disease Control study reported that only 37 percent of ninth through 12th graders engage in 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity three or more times a week, while 35 percent watch TV 3 or more hours every school day.”

The prevalence of overweight teens was 6 percentage points higher than the 15 percent base-line established in an earlier survey conducted in 1976-80. The analysis of the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was produced by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and published November 10 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Although not necessarily obese, 22 percent of adolescent females were overweight and 20 percent of adolescent males were overweight.

Other NHANES III data released in June showed the proportion of overweight adults increased from 25 percent in 1976-80 to 33 in 1988-91.

Data on both adults and adolescents are based on definitions of overweight used in Healthy People 2000, national health goals set for the turn of the century by health authorities under the auspices of the U.S. Public Health Service.

“Our national health objective for the year 2000 is to have overweight prevalence among adolescents no more than 15 percent,” said Philip R. Lee, DHHS Assistant Secretary for Health and Director of the U.S. Public Health Service. “We are obviously off course to meet that goal and the health consequences are severe. Teenage overweight patterns often persist throughout adulthood, increasing the risks of coronary heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.”

Citation: Prevalence of Overweight Among Adolescents – United States, 1988-91. MMWR 43(44):181-21. 1994.

Copies of the MMWR are available from CDC, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333.

For more information, please contact NCHS, Office of Public Affairs (301) 458-4800, or via e-mail at