Overweight and obesity in the United States: prevalence and trends, 1960-1994

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1998 Jan;22(1):39-47. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0800541.


Objective: To describe the prevalence of, and trends in, overweight and obesity in the US population using standardized international definitions.

Design: Successive cross-sectional nationally representative surveys, including the National Health Examination Survey (NHES I; 1960-62) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES I: 1971-1974; NHANES II: 1976-1980; NHANES III: 1988-94). Body mass index (BMI:kg/m2) was calculated from measured weight and height. Overweight and obesity were defined as follows: Overweight (BMI > or = 25.0); pre-obese (BMI 25.0-29.9), class I obesity (BMI 30.0-34.9), class II obesity (BMI 35.0-39.9), and class III obesity (BMI > or = 40.0).

Results: For men and women aged 20-74 y, the age-adjusted prevalence of BMI 25.0-29.9 showed little or no increase over time (NHES I: 30.5%, NHANES I: 32.0%, NHANES II: 31.5% and NHANES III: 32.0%) but the prevalence of obesity (BMI > or = 30.0) showed a large increase between NHANES II and NHANES III (NHES I: 12.8%; NHANES I, 14.1%; NHANES II, 14.5% and NHANES III, 22.5%). Trends were generally similar for all age, gender and race-ethnic groups. The crude prevalence of overweight and obesity (BMI >> 25.0) for age > or = 20 y was 59.4% for men, 50.7% for women and 54.9% overall. The prevalence of class III obesity (BMI > or = 40.0) exceeded 10% for non-Hispanic black women aged 40-59 y.

Conclusions: Between 1976-80 and 1988-94, the prevalence of obesity (BMI > or= 30.0) increased markedly in the US. These findings are in agreement with trends seen elsewhere in the world. Use of standardized definitions facilitates international comparisons.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys*
  • Obesity / classification
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Distribution
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology