Obesity in U.S. Rises in Spite of Evidence of Healthier Diets

Friday, November 13, 2015
(photo: Getty Images)

Americans are reportedly eating healthier, but the changes in nutrition have not resulted in lower levels of obesity.


On the one hand, people are not drinking as many non-diet sodas, the consumption of which has declined about 25% since the late 1990s, according to The New York Times. Also, Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, says Americans’ diets improved in quality from 1999 to 2012 by cutting down on trans fats and increasing their fiber a little more.


But most of these changes occurred among middle- or upper-income people, and not among the poor. “When we take the U.S. average, we are hiding a lot of detail,” Willett told the Times.


This might help to explain why obesity levels have actually ticked upwards a little. In 2011 and 2012, about 35% of Americans were obese. By 2013-2014 the rate had gone up to 38%. Both those numbers are a big increase from the 2003-04 rate of 32%. Obesity rates are even higher among minorities: 57% of black women; 46% for Hispanic women; and 39% for Hispanic men.


“The trend is very unfortunate and very disappointing,” Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, told the Times. “Everybody was hoping that with the decline in sugar and soda consumption, that we’d start seeing a leveling off of adult obesity.”


The bright spot is among children. The obesity rate for those ages 2 to 19 is at 17%, the same figure as 2003-04. “It is more than encouraging to see in today’s CDC report that childhood obesity rates are no longer rising,” Debra Eschmeyer, executive director of Let’s Move, First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign, said.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Obesity Rises Despite All Efforts to Fight It, U.S. Health Officials Say (by Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times)

Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2011–2014 (by Cynthia L. Ogden, Ph.D., Margaret D. Carroll, M.S.P.H., Cheryl D. Fryar, M.S.P.H., and Katherine M. Flegal, Ph.D., National Center for Health Statistics) (pdf)

Improvements in U.S. Diet Helped Reduce Disease Burden and Lower Premature Deaths, 1999–2012; Overall Diet Remains Poor (by Dong D. Wang, Yanping Li, Stephanie E. Chiuve, Frank B. Hu and Walter C. Willett, Health Affairs) (abstract)

Battling Obesity in U.S., FDA Approves Sweeping New Rules for Calorie Disclosure (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obesity May Cost U.S. $215 Billion a Year (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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