Obesity epidemic holds steady

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Although media coverage might lead us to believe that the U.S. obesity epidemic is only getting worse, two new studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest that national obesity levels may actually be leveling off.

The current studies used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) to compare obesity rates from 2009 to 2010 with the rates between 1999 and 2000. Over the decade, there was an increase in obesity among men and boys, but rates among women and girls remained about the same. These growth rates differ significantly from the sharp increases in obesity rates that were seen between the 1970s and the 1990s. After comparing NHANES data from 1976 to 1980 to figures from 1988 to 1994, researchers found an almost 8 percentage point rise in obesity.

Yet it is true that, even though obesity rates may be leveling off, they re still high 35 percent of adults and almost 17 percent of children and teens are considered obese, which is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more in adults and a BMI in at least the 95th percentile for children. This makes for a total of about 90.5 million obese Americans.

It gives us some comfort that the rate is not just going continuously up and up, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross observes. And on top of this, we have seen a decline in obesity-related morbidity and mortality, such as cardiovascular deaths, in recent years. But we still need to figure out how to lower these numbers.

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava also points out that the results of the present studies don t distinguish obesity from severe obesity (a BMI of 40 or higher). Even if obesity overall is remaining steady, there are data suggesting that severe obesity is actually on the rise, she says.

Furthermore, Dr. Ross reminds us that there is no evidence to suggest that any particular program can be credited for slowing the growth of obesity in the population. While some rush to credit soda taxes as the miracle solution to obesity, he says, I d like to point out that there were not any significant soda taxes over the past decade, so it would be impossible to credit a soda tax for any stabilization of the nation s obesity rates.