Americans have reached a dubious milestone: Those who are obese outnumber those who are merely overweight, according to a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine .
The troubling report finds that fewer than one-third of Americans are now at a healthy weight, with the rest of the population either overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of a range of chronic health conditions, including Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Extra weight is also considered a risk factor for cerrtain types of cancer.
A review by researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis estimated that 67.6 million Americans over the age of 25 were obese as of 2012, and an additional 65.2 million were overweight.
The report is based on data collected between 2007 and 2012 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Participants included 15,208 men and women age 25 or older.
The data included information on height and weight, which are used to calculate a person’s body mass index, or BMI. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy weight. Someone with a BMI in the 25-to-29.9 range is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 qualifies a person as obese.
Women were more likely to be obese than overweight, with 37 percent of women obese and 30 percent overweight. Altogether, two out every three women in the U.S. were above a healthy weight. The proportion of men who were obese was almost as high as women – 35 percent. But that figure was lower than the 40 percent of men who were in the overweight zone. With both groups combined, three out of four men in the U.S. were either obese or overweight.
Obese/Overweight Rates Higher Than 20 Years Ago
These figures mark a significant increase over the past 20 years. A similar study based on data from 1988 to 1994 estimated that 63 percent of men and 55 percent of women were overweight or obese at that time.
“We see this as a wake-up call to implement policies and practices designed to combat overweight and obesity, to implement what we already know into place to accelerate the obesity prevention and treatment,” study author Lin Yang, post-doctoral researcher in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine, told CBS News.
A BMI can be used as a screening tool, but it should not be considered a stand-alone diagnosis of body fatness, according to Natalie Sanchez, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group physician with Baptist Health Primary Care . She recommends someone with a high BMI undergo further assessments to see if the additional weight is a health risk.
“Certainly, keeping track of your weight is very helpful, but following up with your doctor and getting regular check-ups is even more important,” says Dr. Sanchez. “If you are overweight or obese, then figuring your BMI and waist size, or simply tracking your weight, can serve as motivation and help your doctor monitor your progress.”