“Obesity continues to be a major public health problem,” said Thomas Frieden, M.D., director of the C.D.C. “We need intensive, comprehensive and ongoing efforts to address obesity. If we don’t more people will get sick and die from obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of death.”
The report is based on new data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (B.R.F.S.S.). The surveillance system contains state-level public health data and provides a way for states to monitor progress toward the Healthy People 2010 goals. To assess obesity prevalence, approximately 400,000 phone survey respondents were asked to provide their height and weight, which was used to calculate their body mass index.
An adult is considered obese if he or she has a B.M.I. of 30 or above.
The C.D.C. said the B.R.F.S.S. obesity data are “underestimates” of true obesity prevalence. Research has found that both men and women often say they are taller than they actually are and women often say they weigh less than they do in telephone surveys. As a result, William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., director of the C.D.C.’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said the overall B.R.F.S.S. obesity prevalence estimate of 26.7% is 7.2 percentage points lower than the national 2007-2008 estimate of 33.9% (nearly 73 million people) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, for which individuals' height and weight were measured rather than self-reported.
The B.R.F.S.S. data highlight how obesity affects some populations more than others. The highest prevalence was found among non-Hispanic blacks overall, whose rate was 36.8%, and non-Hispanic black women, whose rate was 41.9%. The rate for Hispanics was 30.7%. The rate among all non-high school graduates was 32.9%.
Obesity prevalence was also higher in some regions than others. The South had an obesity prevalence of 28.4% while the Midwest had a prevalence of 28.2%.
“Obesity is a complex problem that requires both personal and community action,” Dr. Dietz said. “People in all communities should be able to make healthy choices, but in order to make those choices there must be healthy choices to make. We need to change our communities into places where healthy eating and active living are the easiest path.”