3 Trends in Obesity Rates in the United States

It's common knowledge that obesity is a major problem in the United States, but what have been the trends in obesity rates over the years?

It’s common knowledge that obesity is a major problem in the United States, but what have been the trends in obesity rates over the years?

CDC investigators recently published a study in JAMA that examined the points where obesity rates tipped the scales. The researchers were especially interested in obesity prevalence in 2013 and 2014, as well as trends between 2005 and 2014 after adjusting for age, sex, race/Hispanic origin, smoking status, and education.

The data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which includes information about the US population’s weight and height.

The researchers’ report was based on 2638 men (who had a mean age of nearly 47 years) and 2817 women (who had a mean age of around 48 years) from the 2013-2014 NHANES, plus the NHANES from 2005 to 2012, which included more than 21,000 adults.

Obesity was defined as a body mass index (BMI) ≥30, and class 3 obesity was considered a BMI ≥40.

Here are 3 trends in obesity rates that pharmacists should know:

1. Large increases in obesity rates were seen between the 1980s and 2000s.

Previous CDC research demonstrated that the prevalence of obesity between 1988 and 1994 was 23%, but it jumped to around 34% by 2007-2008.

In addition, the CDC found that obesity prevalence in adults aged 20 to 74 years more than doubled between 1976-1980 and 2007-2008.

2. Women surpassed men in terms of obesity rate between 2013 and 2014.

Looking at 2013-2014 data, the CDC found that the overall rate of obesity was 37.7%. For men, obesity prevalence was 35%, while among women, it was 40.4%.

Overall class 3 obesity prevalence at the time was 7.7%, and again, women tended to be more obese than men. The rate among men was 5.5%, while for women, the rate was 9.9%.

3. From the early 2000s to 2011-2012, women’s obesity rates trended up, while men’s stayed relatively the same.

After looking at data from 2005 through 2014 and adjusting for several factors, the researchers saw significant upward trends for women in terms of overall obesity and class 3 obesity, but no significant changes among men.

More studies are needed to determine the reason for these trends, the researchers noted.

JAMA’s deputy editor and editor-in-chief wrote about possible next steps in an accompanying editorial. They suggested that there has been plenty of research on treating obesity, but new drugs and procedures won’t be able to fully solve the problem.

“Perhaps genetics will unlock some of the mysteries of obesity, but this will take time, and more immediate solutions are needed,” they wrote. “The emphasis has to be on prevention, despite evidence that school- and community-based prevention programs and education campaigns by local governments and professional societies have not been highly successful.”

The authors posited that obesity prevention efforts should be especially targeted to women of childbearing age, since some evidence suggests that maternal obesity may have something to do with children’s future weight.

Pharmacists can do their part to help obese adults by setting achievable goals, monitoring their progress, and correcting unhelpful attitudes, like underestimating the power of triggers and focusing on abstract goals instead of concrete ones.

When counseling obese patients, pharmacists should also remember the READS acronym: take Resistance in stride, show Empathy, dodge Arguments, show Discrepancy, and support Self-efficacy.

“You’re here to be an advocate for your patients, and you may be here to be an advocate for yourself, because we have to walk the talk,” Seena Haines, PharmD, FAPhA, FASHP, BCACP, BC-ADM, CDE, professor and associate dean for faculty at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Gregory School of Pharmacy, previously told Pharmacy Times. “We need to be sure that we’re doing everything within our power, and to me, it’s a daily effort. Some things can become more ritualistic and less mind-focused, but I think it does require constant attention. It will never be something you can turn on autopilot.”