Population Statistics…Overweight, Obese and Counting

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The number of people worldwide that are categorized as obese or overweight continues to increase each year. Mechanization and technology have definitely contributed to the trend with a decrease in the physical labor required by the average individual on a daily basis. This decrease in energy expenditure is coupled with the increase in the amount of processed foods, refined sugars and refined carbohydrates that make up the modern diet can be directly linked to the weight gain epidemic that is global in nature.

Understanding just how significant the number of overweight and obese people is within society is important and will provide essential research information. For these individuals it is critical to keep in mind that even a small decrease in the body mass index or BMI, which is considered a more accurate predictor of obesity and overweight than actual weight, can have a significant positive impact on health, weight maintenance and continuing weight loss.


There is a definite distinction between the terms overweight and obese. Overweight refers to an increased or excessive amount of body weight. This body weight can be caused by muscle mass, fat tissue, water or bone. Overweight people may be overweight due to medications that cause fluid retention or through other issues such as the use of steroids to develop abnormal levels of muscle mass based on height and age.

Obese individuals have an excess of fatty tissue, also known as adipose tissue. This typically occurs because of an increase in energy consumption and a decrease in energy expenditure. Obesity does not occur rapidly in non-medical weight gain, rather it occurs over a long period of time.

Medical terminology differentiates between levels of excess body weight based on age and gender differences. People that are more than 19% of the average weight for a person of the same age and gender are considered to be overweight. This relates to a body mass index or BMI of 25 to 29.9. Individuals that are over 20% of the average weight for their age and gender are considered to be obese, which correlates to a BMI of between 30 and 40. 1 Morbidly obese individuals have a body mass index of 41 or more which is approximately equal to a weight of more than 50% of the average weight for that age and gender. Typically people that are considered morbidly obese have significant daily functioning problems and related health issues.

Statistics In Populations

While research in the United States shows the levels of overweight and obese people in all age categories increasing, the same is also true worldwide. In a study in Great Britain researchers found that the number of obese men and women has tripled since 1980 with obese men at 23% and obese women at 25% of the total population. Children in Great Britain have also had an increase in overweight categories with the same general trend. 2

The American statistics are very similar. Large population studies using the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) have provided the following information on overweight and obese individuals: 3

  • Approximately 68 percent of all Americans are overweight or obese
  • Women that have a BMI of 25 or greater are 64.1% of the population
  • Men that have a BMI of 25 or greater are 72.3% of the population
  • Approximately 5.7% of the adult American population is extremely (morbidly) obese with a BMI of 40 or greater
  • Approximately 31.6 % of all adult Americans are within the recommended weight range for their age and gender
  • The increase in obese and overweight adults is consistent in all ages, educational levels, ethnic groups and between smokers and non smokers
  • Asian Americans have the lowest percentage of overweight and obese individuals at 8.9%
  • Approximately 12.4% of children are categorized as overweight and 17.6 % of adolescents (12-19) are overweight
  • Only 31% of adults report regular physical activity of at least 20 minutes three times per week

The incidence of mortality that is directly related to obesity continues to rise as the percentage of the population classified as obese increases.  It is estimated that on an annual basis at there will be in excess of 162,000 deaths due to obesity combined with cardiovascular failure, cancers, and other weight related conditions.4

In addition those individuals classified as overweight and obese tend to have higher costs of medical care, which can be as much as $1,723 for patients that are obese over individuals of the same age and gender that are not obese. This relates to almost 42% in additional health care costs either through private insurance or government programs over the life of the individual.

The Reasons Behind The Trends

The trends are alarming in the ever growing segment of the population that is classified as overweight or obese. This trend is particularly problematic in the very young and those over the age of 40. Changing lifestyles by increasing activity levels on a regular basis combined with making healthier food choices is seen as key in turning the trend.

Another aspect that needs to be included is education on the best types of food choices and lifestyles. This needs to be encouraged  instead of extreme types of diets and resorting to fad diets to control weight.


1 Defining Overweight And Obesity. (n.d.). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/obesity/defining.html

2 Rennie, K. L., & Jebb, S. A. (2005). Prevalence of obesity in Great Britain. Obesity Reviews , 11-12.

3 Overweight and Obesity Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from Weight-control Information Network: win.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/

4 Flegal, K., Graubard, B., Williamson, D., & etal. (2007). Cause-Specific Excess Deaths Associated With Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity. Journal of the American Medical Association , 2028-37.


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