Obesity trends in young adults.




Annals of Internal Medicine

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Obesity, Weight Loss
Professional Data: Obesity, Weight Loss


Medically speaking, not all overweight people are obese. Obesity is defined as weight that exceeds 15 percent of normal weight for height and body type. "Morbid" obesity exceeds 20 percent of optimum weight. The long-term health implications are well known, in fact, obesity is considered an outright disease. An obese person is at high risk for a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, varicose veins, psychological stress, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Obesity is a continually growing problem in most industrial nations. Obesity is also difficult to diagnose due to the lack of any specific, definite definition of the disorder. The body mass index (BMI) is a widely used formula to calculate obesity because body fat is considered within the calculated result. Guidelines created in 1998 state that the BMI must be 24 or less in order for one's weight to be considered healthy. An individual with a BMI 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. Obese individuals have a BMI greater than 30.1

A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine examined the trends of obesity among young American adults between 1981 and 1998. This prospective cohort study included 9,179 participants. The researchers found that ethnicity, race, and BMI were important predictors of obesity at baseline. The results showed that by the ages of 35 to 37 years of age, 26% of men and 28% of women were obese. The onset of obesity was 2.1 times faster in African American women than Caucasian women. However, obesity occurred more rapidly in Hispanic men rather than Caucasian or African American men. The authors of this study concluded that, "To alter the course of obesity in the United States, interventions should target young adults, especially those of minority ethnic groups."2


1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in cooperation with The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; Sep1998.
2. McTigue, KM, et al. The Natural History of the Development of Obesity in a Cohort of Young U.S. Adults between 1981 and 1998. Ann Intern Med. Jun 2002;136:857-864.