Increasing prevalence of overweight among US adults. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1960 to 1991

JAMA. 1994 Jul 20;272(3):205-11. doi: 10.1001/jama.272.3.205.


Objective: To examine trends in overweight prevalence and body mass index of the US adult population.

Design: Nationally representative cross-sectional surveys with an in-person interview and a medical examination, including measurement of height and weight.

Setting/participants: Between 6000 and 13,000 adults aged 20 through 74 years examined in each of four separate national surveys during 1960 to 1962 (the first National Health Examination Survey [NHES I]), 1971 to 1974 (the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES I]), 1976 to 1980 (NHANES II), and 1988 to 1991 (NHANES III phase 1).

Results: In the period 1988 to 1991, 33.4% of US adults 20 years of age or older were estimated to be overweight. Comparisons of the 1988 to 1991 overweight prevalence estimates with data from earlier surveys indicate dramatic increases in all race/sex groups. Overweight prevalence increased 8% between the 1976 to 1980 and 1988 to 1991 surveys. During this period, for adult men and women aged 20 through 74 years, mean body mass index increased from 25.3 to 26.3; mean body weight increased 3.6 kg.

Conclusions: These nationally representative data document a substantial increase in overweight among US adults and support the findings of other investigations that show notable increases in overweight during the past decade. These observations suggest that the Healthy People 2000 objective of reducing the prevalence of overweight US adults to no more than 20% may not be met by the year 2000. Understanding the reasons underlying the increase in the prevalence of overweight in the United States and elucidating the potential consequences in terms of morbidity and mortality present a challenge to our understanding of the etiology, treatment, and prevention of overweight.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prevalence
  • Regression Analysis
  • United States / epidemiology