Overweight and obesity are found worldwide, and the prevalence of these conditions in the United States ranks high along with other developed nations. Approximately 300,000 adult deaths in the United States each year are attributable to unhealthy dietary habits and physical inactivity or sedentary behavior.
Below are some frequently asked questions and answers about overweight and obesity statistics. Data are based on NHANES 1999-2000. Unless otherwise specified, the figures given represent age-adjusted estimates. Population numbers are based on the U.S. Census Bureau Census 2000.
Q: How many adults are overweight?
A: Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight (BMI > 25, which includes those who are obese).
All adults (20+ years old): 129.6 million (64.5 percent)
Women (20+ years old): 64.5 million (61.9 percent)
Men (20+ years old): 65.1 million (67.2 percent)
Q: How many adults are obese?
A: Nearly one-third of U.S. adults are obese (BMI > 30).
All adults (20+ years old): 61.3 million (30.5 percent)
Women (20+ years old): 34.7 million (33.4 percent)
Men (20+ years old): 26.6 million (27.5 percent)
Q: How many adults are at a healthy weight?
A: Less than half of U.S. adults have a healthy weight (BMI > 18.5 to < 25).
All adults (20-74 years old): 67.3 million (33.5 percent)
Women (20-74 years old): 36.7 million (35.3 percent)
Men (20-74 years old): 30.6 million (31.8 percent)
Q: How has the prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults changed over the years?
A: The prevalence has steadily increased over the years among both genders, all ages, all racial/ethnic groups, all educational levels, and all smoking levels.10 From 1960 to 2000, the prevalence of overweight (BMI > 25 to < 30) increased from 31.5 to 33.6 percent in U.S. adults aged 20 to 74. The prevalence of obesity (BMI > 30) during this same time period more than doubled from 13.3 to 30.9 percent, with most of this rise occurring in the past 20 years.8 From 1988 to 2000, the prevalence of extreme obesity (BMI > 40) increased from 2.9 to 4.7 percent, up from 0.8 percent in 1960.3,8 In 1991, four states had obesity rates of 15 percent or higher, and none had obesity rates above 16 percent. By 2000, every state except Colorado had obesity rates of 15 percent or more, and 22 states had obesity rates of 20 percent or more.11 The prevalence of overweight and obesity generally increases with advancing age, then starts to decline among people over 60.
Q: What is the prevalence of overweight and obesity in minorities?
A: The age-adjusted prevalence of combined overweight and obesity (BMI > 25) in racial/ethnic minorities-especially minority women-is generally higher than in whites in the United States.
Non-Hispanic Black women: 77.3%
Mexican American women: 71.9%
Non-Hispanic White women: 57.3%
Non-Hispanic Black men: 60.7%
Mexican American men: 74.7%
Non-Hispanic White men: 67.4%
(Statistics are for populations 20+ years old)
Studies using this definition of overweight and obesity provide ethnicity-specific data only for these three racial-ethnic groups. Studies using definitions of overweight and obesity from NHANES II have reported a high prevalence of overweight and obesity among Hispanics and American Indians. The prevalence of overweight (BMI > 25) and obesity (BMI > 30) in Asian Americans is lower than in the population as a whole.
Q: What is the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents?
A: While there is no generally accepted definition for obesity as distinct from overweight in children and adolescents, the prevalence of overweight* is increasing for children and adolescents in the United States. Approximately 15.3 percent of children (ages 6-11) and 15.5 percent of adolescents (ages 12-19) were overweight in 2000. An additional 15 percent of children and 14.9 percent of adolescents were at risk for overweight (BMI for age between the 85th and 95th percentile).
Q: What is the prevalence of diabetes in people who are overweight or obese?
A: Among people diagnosed with type 2 (noninsulin-dependent) diabetes, 67 percent have a BMI > 27 and 46 percent have a BMI > 30. About 17 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes, accounting for more than 90 percent of diabetes cases. An additional 20 million have impaired glucose tolerance, sometimes called pre-diabetes, which is a strong risk factor for developing diabetes later in life. An estimated 70 percent of diabetes risk in the U.S. can be attributed to excess weight. For more statistics on diabetes, go to: [url=http://www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/statistics/index.htm]http://www.diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/statistics/index.htm[/url]
Q: What is the prevalence of hypertension (high blood pressure) in people who are overweight or obese?
A: The age-adjusted prevalence of hypertension in overweight U.S. adults is 22.1 percent for men with BMI Z( 25 and < 27; 27.0 percent for men with BMI > 27 and < 30; 27.7 percent for women with BMI > 25 and < 27; and 32.7 percent for women BMI > 27 and < 30. In comparison, the prevalence of hypertension in adults who are not overweight (BMI <25) is 14.9 percent for men and 15.2 percent for women. The prevalence in adults who are obese (BMI > 30) is 41.9 percent for men and 37.8 percent for women.17 (Hypertension is defined as mean systolic blood pressure > 140 mm Hg, mean diastolic > 90 mm Hg, or currently taking antihypertensive medication.)
Q: What is the prevalence of high blood cholesterol in people who are overweight or obese?
A: The age-adjusted prevalence of high blood cholesterol (> 240 mg/dL) in overweight U.S. adults is 19.1 percent for men with BMI > 25 and < 27; 21.6 percent for men with BMI > 27 and < 30; 30.5 percent for women with BMI > 25 and < 27; and 29.6 percent for women BMI > 27 and < 30. In comparison, the prevalence of High cholesterol in adults who are not overweight (BMI <25) is 13.0 percent for men and 13.4 percent for women. The prevalence for adults who are obese (BMI > 30) is 22.0 percent for men and 27.0 percent for women.
Q: What is the prevalence of cancer in people who are overweight or obese?
A: While direct prevalence information is not available, a recent study found that people whose BMI was 40 or more had death rates from cancer that were 52 percent higher for men and 62 percent higher for women than rates for normal-weight men and women. Overweight and obesity could account for 14 percent of cancer deaths among men and 20 percent among women in the U.S. In both men and women, higher BMI is associated with higher death rates from cancers of the esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and kidney. The same trend applies to cancers of the stomach and prostate in men and cancers of the breast, uterus, cervix, and ovaries in women. Almost half of post-menopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer have a BMI > 29.19 In one study (the Nurses’ Health Study), women gaining more than 20 pounds from age 18 to midlife doubled their risk of breast cancer, compared to women whose weight remained stable.
Q: What is the mortality rate associated with obesity?
A: Most studies show an increase in mortality rate associated with obesity (BMI > 30). Obese individuals have a 50 to 100 percent increased risk of death from all causes, compared with normal-weight individuals (BMI 20-25). Most of the increased risk is due to cardiovascular causes. Life expectancy of a moderately obese person could be shortened by 2 to 5 years. White men between 20 and 30 years old with a BMI > 45 could shorten their life expectancy by 13 years; white women in the same category could lose up to 8 years of life. Young African American men with a BMI > 45 could lose up to 20 years of life; African American women, up to 5.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD