Americans are getting taller on average but they are much heavier too, according to government figures released on Wednesday showing that the U.S. population is, literally, growing.
The findings hold for women, men and children, the National Center for Health Statistics reports.
On average, adult men and women are about an inch taller than they were in 1960 and 25 pounds heavier.
The average body mass index (BMI), a weight-for-height formula used to measure obesity, has tipped across the overweight point from 25 in 1960 to 28 in 2002.
The government’s latest report on height and weight shows that the average height of a man aged 20 to 74 went from just over 5 feet 8 inches in 1960 to 5 feet 9 inches in 2002.
The average height of a woman has gone from 5 feet 3 inches to 5 feet 4 inches.
Weights, however, have ballooned. The average weight of an adult man was 166.3 pounds in 1960 and 191 pounds in 2002, while the average weight for women went from 140.2 pounds to 164.3 pounds.
“This is exactly what we have been concerned about,” Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a telephone interview.
“It tells me that we are facing an ominous trend in the degree of obesity and lack of physical fitness in our country. It is going to have profound health impacts on our children, on our adults and on our seniors.”
TREND INCLUDES BOYS, GIRLS
The average 10-year-old boy in 1963 weighed 74.2 pounds and was 55.2 inches tall. By 2002 the average weight was nearly 85 pounds and height 55.7 inches, said the NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For 10-year-old girls, the average weight in 1963 was 77.4 pounds and height 55.5 inches. Girls grew an average of an inch taller by 2002 to 56.4 inches but gained an average of 11 pounds to 88 pounds.
The statistics also show that Americans began edging toward overweight by the time they were teenagers.
“In 1966, the average BMI for a 16-year-old boy was 21.3; in 2002, it was 24.1,” the NCHS said. “For girls the same age, the average BMI increased from 21.9 to 24.0 over the same period.”
Body mass index is the most commonly used method for calculating whether someone weighs too much. A BMI of 20-24 is considered healthy. An adult is overweight if their BMI is 25 or higher and obese at a BMI of 30.
More than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, with a much higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers than people of healthy weight.
The American Obesity Association estimates that 127 million people in the United States are overweight, 60 million are obese, and 9 million are severely obese.
It offers a BMI index calculator at body mass index (BMI)
The Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government on health matters, last month said a range of measures would be needed to tackle childhood obesity, including nationwide school exercise programs and changes in fast-food advertising.
“It’s not an easy fix. There is no magic bullet to cure this one,” Gerberding said.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD