Can Hitting a Weight Plateau Be Good News?

Usually, we think of hitting a weight plateau as getting “stuck” for a while in your weight loss efforts. In this case, however, I’m talking about a plateau in the obesity rate in the United States. Finally, there seems to be some good news. The rate of increases in obesity appears to have leveled off. Unfortunately, the bad news is that 1/3 of Americans are now classified as obese, and another 1/3 are classified as overweight. Those are staggering numbers.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced publication of a study about
trends in obesity among US adults between 1999 and 2008. The study states that the prevalence of obesity was fairly stable from 1960 to 1980, but it showed striking increases in the 1980s and 1990s. This current study indicates that we may have entered another period of relative stability, perhaps with small increases in obesity, although future large changes are still possible.

The study uses a common measure called body mass index (BMI) to classify people as normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9), overweight (BMI 25-29.9), or obese (BMI 30 or more). BMI is a calculation based on a person’s height and weight.

The obesity rate for women has remained fairly level over the last 10 years. For men, it has been steady for about the last 5 years. Another study showed that the incidence of high-weight children and teens has also stabilized, with one exception. The data showed a still-increasing rate among boys ages 6 to 19 at the very heaviest weight levels.

Even though this is good news for most U.S. adults and children, it doesn’t mean we can relax. The rate needs to go down significantly.

“We’re at the corner with obesity, but we haven’t turned the corner,” said Dr. William Dietz, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. He said the data may reflect increased awareness of the problems caused by obesity. As a result, people may be adopting healthier habits. On the other hand, he also said, “I don’t think we have in place the kind of policy or environmental changes needed to reverse this epidemic yet.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, like most studies, this one has some limitations. The data was obtained through surveys, which could be subject to errors. However, this analysis is based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is considered the gold standard for evaluating the obesity problem in the U.S. It is an extensive survey of people whose weight and height are actually measured rather than being self-reported.

For me, I’m willing to be cautiously optimistic based on this information. But there are still a lot of really heavy people out there. I know it’s just a TV show that’s designed for ratings, but if NBC’s Biggest Loser is any indication, this country has a lot of work to do.

What do you think? Is this good news, or not-so-good news? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Lars Plougmann

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