Americans weigh more this decade than they did last decade, but fewer adults say they want to lose weight.
28% of Americans said they weighed 200 pounds or more between 2010 and 2019 – a four-point jump from a 2001 to 2009, according to a new Gallup poll. Still, fewer Americans now consider themselves overweight or obese.
That might reflect changing attitudes toward weight, but the pollsters said it doesn’t bode well for health. Local and state programs to address obesity haven’t been enough to stall its spread across the United States, despite the increased risk of deadly diseases that accompany excessive weight gain.
Participants self-reported their weight and their desire (or lack thereof) to lose it. Fewer US adults want to lose weight compared to last decade: 54%. Almost 40% of men and women are content with their current weight.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 60% of women said they still want to lose weight, even though men are more likely to weigh 200 pounds or more – 42% of male respondents compared to just 14% of women.
The average American’s self-reported weight has jumped up 4 pounds to 178 pounds. In the previous decade, more than half of adults surveyed weighed within or beneath that range.
BMI continues to climb
Obesity is typically defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher, while an overweight BMI starts around 25.
200 pounds isn’t an unhealthy weight for people 6 feet 4 inches or taller, but for the majority of Americans who are shorter, that weight can be considered overweight or even obese, based on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s adult BMI calculator.
The Gallup results are self-reported, so respondents may not know their exact weight or where it falls in the BMI range.
But more in-depth studies show similar results. A 2018 report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found that the average weight of men and women are climbing, even though their average heights have stagnated.
The average American BMI calculated in that study sat somewhere around 30.
Obesity as an epidemic
Obesity is considered a national epidemic. More than 70% of American adults are overweight or obese, a recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found.
Excessive weight gain is tied to poorer mental health and several leading causes of death in the US, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers, the CDC says.
The side effects of obesity may be tied to continually lower life expectancy in the US. A JAMA study published this week found that midlife mortality rates increased more than 114% in obese people.
The causes of obesity complicate its treatment. The CDC says some people may be genetically predisposed to have increased hunger, which makes them more likely to be obese, or learn behaviors that impact the way they eat and view food throughout their lives.
Culture can be a culprit, too. Cheap, highly processed foods are readily available in the US, where urban areas are designed around drivers rather than pedestrians or bicyclists, World Health Organization researcher Temo Waqanivalu told CNN in 2017.
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As such, obesity treatment is broad and varied, too. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends eating more healthy foods with fewer calories rather than sacrificing food completely. If obesity is not extensive enough to require prescribed medication or surgery, weight management programs can help facilitate difficult lifestyle changes.
The Gallup poll points out that the increase occurred concurrently with a new batch of fad diets, which promise quick results – often at the cost of eliminating important nutrients. Because many of them have cropped up recently, the long-term effects of these diets in keeping weight off has not yet been thoroughly studied.