Well-Being

In U.S., Obesity Levels Remain High but Stable in 2010

by Elizabeth Mendes

Black Americans continue to be the most obese group in the United States

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- American adults are more likely to be at an unhealthy weight than they are to be at a normal weight, with a combined 62.6% either overweight (36.0%) or obese (26.6%). But obesity levels are steady so far in 2010, with the percentage of Americans who were obese in the third quarter of this year on par with the previous two quarters.

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Another 35.6% of adults were at a normal weight in the third quarter of the year, more than in the first two quarters of 2010, but fewer than in 2008. These findings are based on surveys of 86,664 Americans aged 18 and older, conducted in July through September 2010 as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Gallup and Healthways categorize Americans as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese according to their Body Mass Index (BMI) scores, which are based on self-reported height and weight.

Demographics of the Obese Unchanged

To assess the weight situations of various demographic groups, Gallup combined data from January through September 2010. Black Americans, with an average obesity level of 35.8% in 2010 to date, remain one of the more obese groups in the United States, as they were in 2009 and 2008. Americans who make less than $36,000 per year and those aged 45 to 64 follow close behind at 31.3% and 31%, respectively.

Asian Americans are still among the least obese at 7.8% -- three times less than the national average -- and down from 2009. Young adults, those aged 18 to 29, also continue to be among the least likely to be obese, with an obesity level of 18.1%.

Obesity levels across other demographic groups are for the most part unchanged in comparison with 2009, though still higher than in 2008. Last year, obesity levels rose by about one percentage point across all demographic groups. This year, the largest increase in any group is 0.5 percentage points, reflecting the stabilization seen in the population overall.

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Implications

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks Americans' BMI daily, providing a near real-time estimate of the nation's weight problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in August of this year that obesity increased in 2009, confirming what Gallup reported in February. Further, Gallup has previously noted and reported on the rise in obesity levels in 2009, as they were increasing. The CDC data are an important and long-trended measure of obesity in the United States, but the Gallup-Healthways data give policymakers and public health officials at the federal, state, and local levels an edge in tracking and understanding the shifts in the numbers of Americans who are normal weight, overweight, and obese as they are happening.

Leaders should note that adult obesity has not increased so far in 2010 compared with 2009, not exactly great news, but no change is better than rising obesity. Still, a recent study put the cost of obesity to the U.S. at around $147 billion per year in direct medical costs, and a newly released report found the price tag for obese workers to be as much as $73.1 billion per year for employers, highlighting the urgent need to reduce the 26.6% obesity level.

The issue of obesity has bounded to the forefront after First Lady Michelle Obama announced in February of this year her nationwide Let's Move! campaign to combat childhood obesity. Whether Mrs. Obama's initiative has played a role -- big or small -- in halting the increase obesity among U.S. adults this year cannot be known for sure at this point. Gallup, however, will continue to monitor obesity levels, and if longer-term changes are found, the role of the first lady's program may prove to be an important factor in reducing these levels.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks U.S. wellbeing and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit well-beingindex.com.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey July 1-Sept. 30, 2010, with a random sample of 86,664 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Results for 2010 to date are based on interviews with 253,503 national adults conducted Jan. 1-Sept. 30, 2010, and have a margin of sampling error of ±1 percentage point. Margins of error for demographic subgroups will be larger.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each daily sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, cell phone-only status, cell phone-mostly status, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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