In U.S., Obesity Up in Nearly All Age Groups Since 2008

In U.S., Obesity Up in Nearly All Age Groups Since 2008

by Elizabeth Mendes

Obesity has increased the most in older age cohorts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans in nearly every age group today are more likely to be obese than those same age groups were four years ago. Obesity is up the most among older adults. For example, 14.4% of 84- to 87-year-olds are obese today, up from 12.2% in 2008. Obesity remains most prevalent in middle age.

Obesity by Age Group, 2008 vs. 2012

Nearly every four-year age group today is significantly more likely to be obese than the same age group was four years ago. Gallup analyzed obesity by four-year age cohorts in order to avoid overlapping between groups.

The findings are based on data collected as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index from Jan. 2-Dec. 31, 2008, and from Jan. 2-Sept. 30, 2012, and include interviews with 579,210 American adults aged 18 and older. Gallup calculates respondents' BMIs using the standard formula based on their self-reported height and weight.

The same general pattern in obesity by age -- with obesity increasing as Americans get older before declining in their early 70s -- continues to be as true today as it was in 2008. Still, the adult obesity rate in general is higher today than it was four years ago -- 26.1% for the Jan. 2-Sept. 20, 2012, timeframe vs. 25.5% in 2008.

The youngest adults (those aged 35 and younger) are only slightly more likely to be obese today than 18- to 35-year-olds were in 2008. But, if this pattern were to continue, these age groups would likely see significant increases in obesity in the future. And, most Americans who are over the age of 35 are now significantly more likely to be obese than those who were that same age four years ago.

Obesity by Age Group -- 2008 vs. 2012

Bottom Line

The prevalence of obesity among U.S. adults increased significantly between 2008 and 2012, and at least minimal increases occurred among nearly every four-year age group. However, not all age groups exhibited this to the same degree. Rather, Gallup-Healthways data indicate that middle-aged adults and advanced seniors were the most likely to see an increase in the percentage of people in that age group with higher obesity rates than four years ago.

The minimal increase in obesity rates among the youngest age groups -- those aged 18 to 23 years and 24 to 27 -- is promising, because it may indicate that efforts to improve nutritional awareness and foster more exercise among the nation's youth may be working. Alternatively, it could mean that obesity has reached a saturation point among the young. It will be important to see if these patterns continue.

At the same time, the increase in obesity among middle-aged adults is particularly troubling, because it means these adults will face the health risks of maintaining an unhealthy weight for a longer period of time, resulting in a lower quality of life, more health problems, and a shorter lifespan. This will also add to the nation's multi-billion dollar healthcare bill. The increase in obesity among the nation's oldest adults may have fewer long-term implications, but serious short-term ones for this population's daily wellbeing and quality of life. More effort should be put into helping seniors stay active and informed about their nutritional needs.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

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

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index survey Jan. 2-Dec. 31, 2008, and Jan. 2-Sept. 30, 2012, with a random sample of 579,210 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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.

For results based on each age group, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is no more than ±1.5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. 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, and phone status (cellphone-only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 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

Sample Sizes for Each Age Group by Year

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