Obesity Among U.S. Adults at All-Time High; Teen Rates Stable

Several direct selling companies, such as OPTAVIA and Team Beachbody, have made it their mission to help combat the obesity epidemic in America. Others, such as Herbalife, USANA and Amway have conducted extensive research to understand the dietary habits of consumers and offer products to encourage balanced nutrition. It appears their efforts will be needed for some time.

The growth in the health and wellness industry has been largely driven by the obesity epidemic. And according to research released today by the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 40 percent of adults and 19 percent of youth in the United States are obese. This is the highest rate the country has ever seen in adults.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Craig Hales, Medical Epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that since 1999 there has been a staggering rise in the prevalence of obesity, particularly in adults, without any “signs of it slowing down.”

Youth obesity rates seem to be more stable in recent years. However, it is “too early to tell” what direction youth obesity prevalence will take. Hales said least four more years of data are required to truly understand the direction.

There has been a 30 percent increase in adult obesity and 33 percent increase in youth obesity when comparing 1999–2000 data to 2015–2016. When looking at the goals of Healthy People 2020—a 2010 government effort to improve the health of Americans, including by reducing obesity—the crisis looms even larger. The initiative aims to lower obesity rates to 14.5 percent among youth and 30.5 percent among adults by 2020.

Hispanic adults had an obesity rate of 47 percent and Non-Hispanic black adults a rate of 46.8 percent in 2015–2016, the new report showed, with non-Hispanic white adults at 37.9 percent and Asian adults at 12.7 percent.

Among youths, Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks also had higher rates of obesity, at 25.8 percent and 22 percent respectively, compared with 14 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 11 percent of Asians.

Hales explained that for the study, data were collected from Americans ages 2 to 19 and 20 and older, through mobile physical examination centers across the country, and then measured using body–mass index (BMI). Body mass index is the ratio between a person’s weight and height; a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while anything over 30 is obese.

Michael W. Long, Assistant Professor at the Milken Institute of School Public Health at George Washington University, said that improving racial disparities in obesity may involve implementing policies such as raising soda taxes and improving the quality of benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides healthy food for families, housing vouchers and home energy assistance.

According to Dr. Ihuoma Eneli, Professor of Pediatrics at Ohio State University and Director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, efforts to reduce obesity, especially in children, will also come from a change in policy. It is important to start looking at the effectiveness of available health programs at public health institutions, school systems and clinics.

Family plays a role in curbing obesity as well. Interventions such as avoiding fast food, eating healthy meals together and planning family activities are great ways to support a child with obesity, Eneli suggested. The most important point is to avoid isolating children in trying to treat their obesity. Planning to be healthy together can put a family on the right path.