Overweight people in America
There are lots of overweight people in America

Six in 10 are overweight; health fallout feared

By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

New statistics reveal that a startling 64.5% of American adults, or more than 120 million people, are overweight or obese. The numbers probably will mean an explosion of diabetes and heart disease cases if things don't improve, top U.S. obesity experts say.
The number of Americans who are overweight is at the highest level ever recorded.
The data from the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey is considered the most definitive assessment of Americans' weight because of the length and size of the study and because people's height and weight are actually measured. The statistics reveal that:
  • 31%, or about 59 million adults older than 20, are obese. Obese is defined as 30 or more pounds over a healthy body weight; overweight is roughly 10 to 30 pounds over a healthy weight.
  • 33% of adult women are obese, compared with 28% of men.
  • 50% of black women are obese compared with 40% of Mexican-American women and 30% of white women. (The survey doesn't have a category for all Hispanics.) There is virtually no difference in obesity among men based on race.
  • 5% of people overall are extremely obese. That's up from about 3% in the early 1990s. But 15% of black women are extremely obese.
  • About 15% of children ages 6 to 19, or about 9 million children, are overweight.
"We want to emphasize that the problem of obesity and being overweight for adults and kids is getting worse," says Cynthia Ogden, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is one of the authors of two studies published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association
"We're seeing it in all age groups, both sexes and in all races. We did see a bigger increase in certain ethnic groups, but we've seen it across the board," Ogden says.
Being overweight has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, some types of cancer, arthritis and other health problems. Doctors already have reported an increase in diabetes cases in the USA, largely attributed to weight gain.
"The medical costs of treating obesity-related disease will cause a considerable strain on the health care system and the economy," says Samuel Klein, president of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.
Klein says what is most disturbing about the latest obesity numbers is the speed of the increase.
"When you look around at our current environment, it's surprising that anyone is lean because there is an abundance of food and marked decrease in regular physical activity," he says. "Obesity is the dark side of a technically advanced society."
Action needs to be taken quickly, says James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. "We have to start programs to fight this obesity epidemic. If something doesn't happen, the next time the statistics will be even worse."
For the latest health and nutrition survey, researchers measured the heights and weights of 4,115 adult men and women and 4,722 children from birth to age 19. Overweight and obesity in adults is determined by body mass index, which is a measure of a person's weight in relation to his or her height.
A rating of 25 or higher is considered overweight, 30 or higher is obese, and 40 or higher is extremely obese. For example, a 5-foot-8-inch person who weighs 190 pounds would be overweight; a person at the same height who weighs 230 pounds is obese.