The Obesity Picture: Part 2

The Gallup Poll has been asking people about their weight from 1991 to 2011. In a report on their website in November 2011, Elizabeth Mendes stated: “American men, on average, say they weigh 196 pounds and women say they weigh 160 pounds. Both figures are nearly 20 pounds higher than the average that men and women reported in 1990. As Americans’ actual weight has increased, so has their ideal weight.”

She presented two charts summarizing the trends they found.











See Report:Click Here


She went on to note the November 2011 poll:

“In separate daily polling, Gallup and Healthways track Americans’ self-reported height and weight to compute body mass index (BMI) scores as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. These BMI calculations found that 61.6% of Americans were either overweight or obese based on government definitions (35.8% were overweight and 25.8% were obese) in the third quarter of this year” (2011).

“Both figures, however, still far exceed the percentage of Americans who personally describe themselves as overweight — 39% in the Nov. 3-6 Health and Healthcare survey. The majority of Americans say their weight is “about right,” as they have in most of the past 20 years.”

There are a few challenges here. One is that there is always the possibility that self-reported data will be somewhat off because people might not be telling the complete truth about their weight. It is a sensitive issue, especially for those who feel a sense of shame or stigma about excess weight. Still, it is interesting to note that their sense of being “about right” is different from how the government categorizes them. Once again, it raises the question of the objective basis for the categories of normal weight, overweight, and obese.

Their findings are somewhat less than the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; the most recent study that found 33 percent overweight and 35.7 percent obese.

But the trend pattern over time still shows weight increasing, as it does in the National Health studies.

The trend tables in Health, United States 2011 found a steadily increasing percent of  those aged aged 20 to 74 years old with a BMI greater than or equal to 25 (which includes the overweight and obese categories) :

1966-1962      1971-1974    1976-1980    1988-1994   1999-2002   2003-2006  2007-2010

45%                    48%                  47%                  56%                 65%                67%                69%

Table 74 (page 2 of 7).   We see the big jump between 1980 and 1988, so that something worth looking at: what happened during the 1980s?  We then see the next jump after 1998, when the definition changed so that people who had been considered normal weight were now categorized as overweight. There are unequal years here, from 1966 to 1980, very little change in percent (14 years).  from 1999 to 2010 (11 years), we see small change in percentages.

What does the data show if we look only at obesity (BMI greater than or equal to 30.0) for adults 20 to 74?

1966-1962      1971-1974    1976-1980    1988-1994   1999-2002   2003-2006  2007-2010

13%                   15%                  15%                  23%                 31%                34%                35%

Again, we see the big jump for 1980 to 1988, and another big leap from 1994 to 1999. This second one can not be explained away by a different definition. There is still increases after 1999, but they are more gradual.


What does the data show if we look only at morbidly obese (BMI greater than or equal to 40.0) for adults 20 to 74?

1966-1962      1971-1974    1976-1980    1988-1994   1999-2002   2003-2006       2007-2010

1%                   1.3%                  1.3%                  3.1%                 5.2%                5.7%                6.3%

We see the same jumps from 1980 to 1988, and again from 1994 to 1999.  Clearly, something happened to the either the diets, the chemicals, the environment or people’s bio-chemistry and their ability to metabolize food.

As a public administrator, it does strike me as a bit odd that the government began making a big push in the 1970s and 1980s for better nutrition, but things got worse instead of better.  Is this a policy failure? No doubt, someone has taken this on as a research issue.


Trends: Weight among Adults 20 to 74








BMI 25 and higher








Obesity (30+)








Morbidly Obese (BMI 40+)








Center for Disease Control, Health, Unitd States, 2011. Table 74.

This entry was posted in health.

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