Who is Most Vulnerable in the Obesity Epidemic?

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The American obesity epidemic shows no sign of slowing. A new study shows who has been most affected over the past decade.

We’ve all likely complained about the pandemic pounds or holiday love handles we’ve picked up over the years. While various fad diets and schemes surface to help us combat obesity, none of them really offer sustainable results. In fact, new research indicates that obesity continues to be a big problem.

Research from Brigham Young University (BYU)'s school of exercise science published in the Journal of Obesity indicates that the US obesity epidemic is showing no signs of slowing down. The study included 13,800 adults and found that over half of them gained 5% or more of their bodyweight in a 10-year period with over a third of US adults picking up 10% or more of bodyweight. Nearly a fifth of participants gained 20% or more.

Lead author of the study, Larry Tucker, a professor of exercise science at BYU, notes, "The U.S. obesity epidemic is not slowing down. Without question, 10-year weight gain is a serious problem within the U.S. adult population."

Participants in the study were randomly selected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This annual survey evaluates a nationally represented sample. Also known as NHANES, this CDC-sponsored series of studies started in the 1960s and became a continuous program in 1999.

According to the NHANES data, 10-year weight gain was more significant in women than in men. On average, women gained about twice as much weight as men (12 pounds vs 6 pounds in 10 years). African-American women had the greatest average weight gain over the 10-year period (nearly 20 pounds), while Asian men gained the least amount of weight in the same amount of time (2.9 pounds).

When the researchers looked at the data in age groups, the greatest weight gains were seen in young and middle-aged adults. Overall, less weight is gained as age increases.

Based on the data, Americans picked up the following pounds:

  • 17.6 pounds between their 20s and 30s
  • 14.3 pounds between their 30s and 40s
  • 9.5 pounds between their 40s and 50s
  • 4.6 pounds between their 50s and 60s

To put it more plainly, as adults age, if they follow the pattern above, they can gain over 45 pounds, which can push them into obesity. Currently, the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services show that 42.4% of US adults as obese. This is up from the previous rate of 30.5% in 2000.

The prevalence of obesity has increased by nearly 40% over 20 years and severe obesity has practically doubled, according to Professor Tucker. He advises public health officials and health care providers focus prevention efforts on those at risk of becoming obese.

So, how can you help? Check out the post Here's How RDNs and Other Educators Can Help During the Obesity Epidemic.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

Reference: Larry A. Tucker, Kayla Parker. 10-Year Weight Gain in 13,802 US Adults: The Role of Age, Sex, and Race. Journal of Obesity, 2022; 2022: 1 DOI: 10.1155/2022/7652408

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