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What % of the adult U.S. population is actually overweight?

In Table 242 of its 1998 edition, the Statistical Abstract of the United States states that during the period 1976-80, 25.4% of adults 20 years old and older were overweight or obese.  During the period 1988-94, that number rose to 34.8%.  By 1998 (table 197 of the 2001 edition), the number was 55.3%; and in 2006 (table 203 of the 2009 edition), 65.6% fell into these categories. Overweight is currently defined as a body mass index (BMI) equal to or greater than 25, but less than 30. Obese individuals have a BMI 30 or greater.  To determine BMI, one multiplies weight in pounds by 703; then divides that result by height in inches squared.  If you want to calculate your BMI online, you can use the web page created by the Calorie Control Council.

Even more interesting to me than the actual overweight figures, were the percentage of those who saw themselves as being overweight.  During the period 1988-94, 81.7% of men and 91.6% of women who were actually overweight recognized this.  However, of those not actually overweight, 25.4% of men and 44.1% of women saw themselves as being overweight.  (These figures are from Table 243 of the 1998 Statistical Abstract of the United States.)  One can't help but assume that all of those images of thin, young models and actresses are convincing a great many healthy women that they need to lose weight.  On the other hand, since one regularly sees overweight men on TV and in the movies, men are not as concerned as women.

Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, had a fascinating web site that discussed the media's effect on women's self-esteem and self-image.  Now gone, all that remains is a brief description of what she hoped it would accomplish.  (However, the Internet Archive has preserved some of the original site.)  Still remaining, and definitely worth viewing, is the web site that supplements the Frontline documentary FAT, first broadcast on November 3, 1998.  This documentary explores the economic, genetic, social and cultural influences on eating and weight in the U.S.  If you haven't seen it, look for a rebroadcast on your local PBS station, or look at the web site for information on purchasing a videocassette copy.  A transcript of the program is also available at this site.  You may read the transcript online by clicking here.

On April 2, 1999, the ABC News program 20/20 broadcast a segment on why restaurant servings have grown larger, and how this is affecting our weight and health.  For information on transcripts and videos, click here.

Here are links to two news stories on the size of restaurant portions.  The first is from USA Today (January 31, 2001).  The second is the full report (titled Portion Distortion), on which the USA Today story is based.  It is from the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter.

In early 2001, the British medical journal The Lancet published the first scientific evidence of a link between soft drink consumption and childhood obesity The National Soft Drink Association immediately denounced the research A study they funded was reported on April 3, 2001.

Not all people think dietary fat is bad for our health, or contributes to obesity.  Here is a thought-provoking article by renowned science writer Gary Taubes in which he examines the evidence.

For other ideas dealing with food, see What's That?! and How Much Sugar Does the Average American Consume in One Year?.

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original web posting: Sunday, December 20, 1998
last modified: Monday, February 02, 2009