Obesity Epidemic In America Shows Signs of Plateauing

At All Ages, a Health Concern
SOURCE: Center for Disease Control and Prevention | The Washington Post - November 29, 2007
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007

The obesity epidemic that has been spreading for more than a quarter-century in the United States has leveled off among women and may have hit a plateau for men, as well, federal health officials reported yesterday.

While the proportion of adults who are obese remains high at more than 30 percent, the rate in 2005 and 2006 was statistically unchanged from the last time government researchers took a national snapshot two years earlier.

The findings confirm earlier indications that the increase in obesity among women had stalled and suggests that the same trend may have begun among men.

"This is encouraging," said Cynthia L. Ogden of the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the new data. "I think we can say that obesity in women is stabilizing, and I'm optimistic that we may be seeing a leveling off in men, as well."

If both trends continue, it could mean that the effort to stem the nation's growing girth could be starting to pay off, Ogden and others said.

"This doesn't show we've turned the corner on obesity, but we might be at the corner," said William H. Dietz of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "The first step in controlling any epidemic is halting a rise in the number of cases, and this suggests that might be happening."

But experts quickly cautioned that it is too soon to declare victory, noting that the lull could be fleeting and that about 72 million adults are still considered obese.

"This is still the biggest health problem of our time," Gary D. Foster, director of obesity research and education at Temple University, who is president of the Obesity Society, said. "It's not time to relax. We've got to continue to take the problem seriously and be aggressive about finding effective prevention and treatment strategies."

The proportion of Americans who are obese has increased dramatically in the last 25 years, doubling among adults and tripling among children since 1980. Because obesity increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other major health problems, the rapid rise has alarmed health experts.

Ogden and her colleagues reported last year that the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing program tracking obesity and other major health issues, showed that the increases may have stalled for American women in 2003 and 2004. But they said more data were needed to confirm whether the shift was real.

The latest data collected from a nationally representative sample of 4,400 Americans age 20 and older showed that, while the proportion of women who were obese increased from 33.2 percent in 2003 and 2004 to 35.3 percent in 2005 and 2006, that difference was not statistically significant, and the rate has been stable since 1999.

Among men, Ogden and her colleagues found that the rate increased from 31.1 percent to 33.3 percent, but that change, too, was not statistically significant. But because the rate was still up compared with 1999, Odgen said more data are needed to confirm the stall.

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