More Americans of all Ages are Overweight

For Release: Thursday, March 6, 1997

Contact: Jeff Lancashire or Sandra Smith, (301) 458-4800

A growing proportion of U.S. children, adolescents, and adults are overweight, according to an article published in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The latest analysis from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted from 1988-94 by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, shows that approximately 14 percent of children ages 6-11, 12 percent of adolescents ages 12-17, and 35 percent of adults ages 20 and over are overweight. This represents significant increases in all age groups since NHANES II was conducted from 1976-80.

Diet and physical activity are the two primary behavioral factors believed to be associated with overweight. NHANES III shows that calorie intakes have increased in adults since NHANES II and that recreational activity is low for many Americans.

“This report tells us again that Americans need to do better in choosing a healthy diet and a sensible plan of physical activity,” said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. “Just last year, the Surgeon General called attention to the need for regular moderate physical activity in our lives, and for a balanced diet. It’s good advice, and we all need to act on it, for the sake of our own good health.”

The proportion of overweight children and adolescents has increased 6 percent between the end of NHANES II (1980) and the end of NHANES III (1994).

Among adults, overweight prevalence increased approximately 9 percent between 1980 and 1994. One-third of men and 36 percent of women are overweight. The disparities by race/ethnicity are not as great for men as they are for women. Among women, one-third of non-Hispanic whites, 52 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 50 percent of Mexican Americans are overweight.

Last July, HHS issued the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, recommending 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day. Regular moderate physical activity can substantially reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and high blood pressure, the report found.

Also last year, HHS and the Department of Agriculture issued the new “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” providing easily-understood, science-based information on healthy eating. The report contains specific recommendations on good food sources for specific nutrients.

The Surgeon General’s Report is available from CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity information line (toll-free): 1-888-CDC-4NRG, or on the World Wide Web at The “Dietary Guidelines” are available for 50 cents through the Consumer Information Center, Department 378-C, Pueblo, CO, 81009; or from the World Wide Web at http://odphp.osophs.dhhs.govexternal icon.

For purposes of this analysis, children and adolescents were defined as overweight if their body mass index (BMI) exceeded the 95th percentile of BMI for children and adolescents of the same age and sex groups as measured in the 1960’s. This differs from the definition used for adults, which was based on the 85th percentile for persons aged 20-29. A more conservative definition of overweight was used for children and adolescents to account for growth spurts and other changes that take place during youth and adolescence.

Although the National Center for Health Statistics has tracked overweight prevalence for over 30 years using these definitions, there is no universally accepted definition of overweight and using different standards would raise or lower the proportion considered overweight. However, it is clear that the overall trend towards increased overweight prevalence continues for all age groups.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report can be obtained by mail: CDC at 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333.

NOTE: HHS press releases are available on the World Wide Web at: http://www.dhhs.govexternal icon.


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