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BYU study provides insight into America’s obesity epidemic

By Ashtyn Asay - | Jun 28, 2022
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In this June 26, 2012, file photo, two women converse in New York.
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A new BYU study finds that 51% of American adults gained 5% or more body weight over a 10-year period, a third of those studied gained 10% or more of their body weight and almost a fifth gained 20%.

Findings by Brigham Young University exercise science researchers give new insight into America’s obesity epidemic.

An article published in the Journal of Obesity studies the long-term weight gain of 13,800 U.S. adults and found that more than half of the adults in the study gained 5% or more of their body weight over the course of a 10-year period. A third of those studied gained 10% or more of their body weight, and almost a fifth gained 20%.

“The U.S. obesity epidemic is not slowing down,” Larry Tucker, a BYU professor of exercise science and study lead professor, said in a press release. “Without question, 10-year weight gain is a serious problem within the U.S. adult population.”

Participants in the study were selected randomly as part of the annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which examines a nationally representative sample. NHANES is a series of studies sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that are designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States.

Young and middle-aged adults saw the most weight gain, with less weight gained as they got older. The average amount of weight gained by each age group throughout the duration of the study was:

  • 17.6 pounds between their 20s and 30s.
  • 14.3 pounds between their 30s and 40s.
  • 9.5 pounds between their 40s and 50s.
  • 4.6 pounds between their 50s and 60s.

“If adults gain the average amount of weight during each decade of adult life, they will have gained more than 45 pounds, which would push many of them into the obese category,” the press release states. “According to the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC, 42.4% of U.S. adults are currently obese. That’s up substantially from the 30.5% measured in 2000.”

The NHANES data also found that:

  • Women gained significantly more weight over the 10-year period than men. Women gained 12 pounds on average, compared to 6 pounds for men.
  • Weight gain differed across races. Black women experienced the greatest average weight gain over the 10-year period (19.4 pounds) and Asian men experienced the least (2.9 pounds).

“In roughly 20 years, the prevalence of obesity increased by approximately 40% and severe obesity almost doubled,” Tucker said in a press release. “By knowing who is more likely to become obese, we can help health care providers and public health officials focus more on at-risk individuals.”

BYU graduate student Kayla Parker is also an author of the study.

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