The prevalence of obesity in the United States seems to have plateaued, according to data released Tuesday. The numbers show 35.7% of U.S. adults and almost 17% of U.S. children and teens are obese.
"There's been no change in the prevalence of obesity in recent years in children or adults," says Cynthia L Ogden, Ph.D, an epidemiologist with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and the leading author of the report. "But I think looking over the last decade, it's interesting to see how the prevalence of obesity in men has caught up with the prevalence of obesity in women."
Ogden and her team compiled the data from 2009-2010 using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey measured the height and weight of almost 6,000 men and women and calculated their Body Mass Index (commonly known as BMI) to determine if they were obese.
They found that from 2009-2010, 35.5% of American men and 35.8% of American women were obese, with African-American and Mexican-American men and women having higher rates of obesity than white Americans. Obesity was more common among teens than preschool aged children and among boys than girls.
"This is a good news story but this is not the end of the story," says Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, Dean of the School of Medicine and Executive Vice President of Morehouse College.
"We cannot feel good... until we see a decrease in the prevalence of obesity," says Dr. Montgomery Rice.
In Rice's opinion, efforts over the last several years to educate populations about the importance of daily exercise, to encourage the incorporation of healthy foods into school cafeterias, and to combat food insecurity throughout the country is having an impact on the number of Americans who are obese. But she cautions that more needs to be done and that doctors should focus on giving patients realistic weight loss goals when counseling patients about obesity.
"It's a difficult conversation to have with an individual, to say 'okay, you are obese.'" People kind of know what 'obese' is but not really."
For example, as an OB-GYN, Montgomery Rice counsels her patients on the dangers of belly fat and the reproductive issues that could be affected or made worse by obesity. She also encourages patients to focus on losing only 10% of their excess weight at a time.
"What I hope doesn't come out of this study is that we start to think we've made some significant improvement and we stop the efforts that have been put forth," says Rice.