More than 25 percent of Americans are obese in their 30s

June 18, 2002 in Weight Management

More than 25 percent of Americans are obese in their 30s

A new study provides evidence that Americans are fatter than ever and suggests that the pounds are accumulating at even younger ages. The report found that 27% of US adults aged 20 to 74 are obese by the time they reach their mid-30s, about twice the rate in the early 1960s. Overall, 61% of adults are either overweight or obese, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of at least 27.

BMI is a measure of a person's weight in relation to their height and can more accurately predict the risk of weight-related medical complications than weight alone. A BMI of 27 or more, for instance, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, some cancers, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

In this study, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill documented a shift in how fast young adults became obese, with people born in 1964 becoming obese 26% to 28% faster than (those) born in 1957. The findings underscore the need for weight-control efforts that target even mildly overweight young adults. According to the report, 80% of adults who were obese in their mid-30s began to put on the excess weight in their 20s and many people began to gain weight in their teens.

Overall, 26% of men and 28% of women were obese (BMI = 30 or above) by age 35 to 37. Obesity rates were particularly high among minorities, with black women about twice as likely as their white peers to become obese. Obesity rates were also higher among Hispanic men and women, compared to whites, the investigators found.

It is not clear why minorities are more prone to obesity than whites but the researchers suggest that ethnicity may be a marker for other factors such as dietary and exercise habits, income, education and the number of children in a family. The study did not include information on diet and exercise.

The findings are based on information from more than 9,000 people living in the US, who reported their height and weight to researchers 12 times over a 17-year period. Because people tend to underestimate their weight, the results of the study may be conservative, the researchers note.

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