America's weight problem - Taller and heavier

Thursday, October 28, 2004

WASHINGTON

Americans are getting a little taller and a lot fatter. xxxxx Adults are roughly an inch taller than they were in the early 1960s, on average, and nearly 25 pounds heavier, the government reported Wednesday.

The nation's expanding waistline has been well documented, though Wednesday's report is the first to quantify it based on how many pounds the average person is carrying.

The reasons are no surprise: more fast food, more television and less walking around the neighborhood, to name a few. Earlier this year, researchers reported that obesity fueled by poor diet and lack of activity threatens to overtake tobacco use as the leading preventable cause of death.

From 1960 to 1962, the average man weighed 166.3 pounds. By 1999 to 2002, the average had reached 191 pounds, according to the National Center for Health Statistics -- part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- which issued the report. Similarly, the report said, the average woman's weight rose from 140.2 pounds to 164.3 pounds.

The trends are the same for children, the report said: Average 10-year-olds weighed about 11 pounds more in 1999 to 2002 than they did 40 years ago. So expect the next generation of adults to be even heavier than they are today, said Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

"All the kids who are obese now will become obese adults," Klein said. "What will happen with the next generation of adults is really scary."

Obesity can increase the likelihood of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health problems.

The report also documented an increase in weight when measured by body mass index, a scale that takes into account both height and weight. Average BMI for adults, ages 20 to 74, has increased from about 25 to 28 over the 40-year span.

Anyone with a BMI of 25 and up is considered overweight, and those with BMIs of 30 or more are considered obese.

Stretching it out

At the same time, though much less dramatically, Americans are getting a little bit taller.

Men's average height increased from 5 feet 8 inches in the early 1960s to 5 feet 9 1/2 inches in at the end of the century.

The average height of a woman, meanwhile, went from just over 5 feet 3 inches to 5 feet 4 inches.

The height trends begin in childhood and are evident through adolescence and into adulthood, said the report's author, Cynthia Ogden, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics. Taller children grow up to be taller adults.

Height, while determined largely by genetics, is also influenced by childhood nutrition. Adults in the early 1960s grew up during tougher times when they may not have had enough to eat, Klein said.

"Things were not so plentiful here," he said. In recent years, there have been "very few starving kids." On the contrary, many are being overfed.

The weight gain trend is typically reported as what portion of all children or all adults are overweight. Those numbers are also alarming. In 1999 to 2002, 31 percent of adults had a BMI of 30 or over, considered obese. That's more than double the rate in the early 1960s.

About two in three adults from 1999 to 2002 were considered overweight.

The explanations are numerous. Among them:

Portions have gotten bigger, and people go out to eat more.

Junk food that stays fresh for a long time is more readily available. It's much easier to find a bag of cookies or potato chips in the cupboard than an orange, which may go bad in a few days.

Adults and children watch more television and spend more hours in front of a computer than ever before, sitting around rather than burning calories in some physical activity.

At work, people are more likely to stare at a computer screen than do something physical. And it's easier to send an e-mail than get up and walk over to see someone in person.

Even if someone wants to walk to a store, it's not always possible since many communities lack sidewalks and sometimes crossing a street means dodging six lanes of traffic.

Fear of crime in some neighborhoods keeps both children and adults inside.

Wednesday's report also found:

Among men, the increase in weight was most dramatic among older men: Those 60 to 74 were nearly 33 pounds heavier in 1999 to 2002 than men that age in the early 1960s.

Among women, the difference was starkest among the young. Women ages 20 to 29 were nearly 29 pounds heavier.

For children, the average weight for a 10-year-old boy went from 74.2 pounds in 1963 to nearly 85 pounds by 2002. The average girl's weight went from 77.4 pounds to nearly 88 pounds.

It was the same for teens. An average 15-year-old boy weighed 135.5 pounds in 1966, which rose to 150.3 pounds by 2002. The average teen girl's weight went from 124.2 pounds to 134.4 pounds.

The report, "Mean Body Weight, Height and Body Mass Index, United States, 1960-2002," was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which uses actual body measurements.

A WEIGHTY ISSUE

On average, American adults are about an inch taller and nearly 25 pounds heavier than they were in the early 1960s, the government reported Wednesday.

BY THE NUMBERS

* Average man in 1960s: 5 feet 8 inches and 166.3 pounds.

* Average man 1999-2002: 5 feet 9 1/2 inches, 191 pounds.

* Average woman in 1960s: just over 5 feet 3 inches and 140.2 pounds. n Average woman 1999-2002: 5 feet 4 inches, 164.3 pounds.

THE IMPACT

Obesity can increase the likelihood of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health problems.

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