American adults weigh about 25 pounds more now than they did in 1960, according to new government statistics released Wednesday. Kids’ weight has increased about 9 pounds over the last four decades, and teens’ weight increased 12 to 16 pounds.
Children are about a half-inch to an inch taller, and adults are about an inch taller.
These are the latest findings from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, which is considered the gold standard when it comes to assessing Americans’ weight. It is the first government study to look back four decades at the U.S. waistline.
“This helps us to understand the magnitude of the obesity problem in real terms that people can understand,” says Cynthia Ogden, the report’s lead author and an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers measured the height and weight of almost 9,000 men and women and more than 8,000 children from age 2 to 19. Previous findings from this survey reveal that about 65 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. About 16 percent of kids are overweight, and another 15 percent are at risk of becoming heavy.
Experts believe the increasing girth of the nation will mean an explosion of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and other illnesses associated with obesity. The health-care cost is expected to be astronomical.
“Just telling people to go on a diet is not going to work,” says Louis Aronne, president-elect of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. “We’re going to need more organized treatment programs. We need better medications. One of the great ironies is that obesity is still looked upon as a cosmetic issue and nothing could be further from the truth.”
The height of most Americans appears to have largely leveled off, failing to keep pace with the increase in height in many parts of Europe, especially Scandinavian countries, said Richard Steckel of Ohio State University.
“Northern Europeans are now two inches taller than Americans,” Steckel said. “Seventy-five years ago that wasn’t the case. We’re falling behind.”
A variety of factors may be to blame, including better medical care and better overall nutrition in other parts of the world, Steckel said.
The increase in weight problems among the young, for example, may be causing many U.S. children to mature earlier, causing their growth spurts to occur when they are younger. But their eventual height may not be increasing as much as it should because they tend to eat greater quantities of junk food, he said.
“I wonder if all these calories children are eating are not crowding out micronutrients. Are we eating junk food instead of fruits and vegetables? Is our diet imbalanced?”