Obesity and overweight in the United States are on the rise. It is estimated that about two-thirds of American adults are currently either overweight or obese.

Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risks of numerous health problems, including diabetes , high blood pressure, heart disease , stroke , breathing problems, some cancers, arthritis , gallbladder disease, and early death. The good news is that maintaining a healthy weight or losing even a small amount of weight can significantly decrease these risks. But excess weight is a problem that has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.

A new study in the October 4, 2005 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that nine out of 10 men and seven out of 10 women were overweight or became overweight within 30 years, and more than one-third of the participants were obese or became obese during the study period.

About the Study

This study included 4,117 white men and women who were participating in the Framingham Heart Study, a community based study that took place in Framingham, Massachusetts between 1971 and 2001.

The participants attended examinations every four years, during which their heights and weights were measured. From these measurements, the researchers calculated each participant’s body mass index (BMI). BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height, and is calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2).

People with BMIs of 18.5-25.0 kg/m2 were considered normal weight, those with BMIs of 25.1-29.9 kg/m2 were considered overweight, and those with BMIs of 30.0 kg/m2 or more were considered obese.

The researchers followed the participants for up to 30 years and determined their risks for becoming overweight or obese.

The Findings

The table below describes the weight categories of the participants when the study began:

Weight category

Women ages 30-34

Women ages 40-44

Women ages 50-54

Men ages 30-34

Men ages 40 -44

Men ages 50 -54






















Over the course of 30 years, more than half of the participants progressed from normal to overweight. In addition, about one in three women and one in four men became obese.

Overall, seven out of ten women and nine out of ten men were either overweight when the study began or became overweight within 30 years. Furthermore, more than four out of ten participants were either obese when the study began or became obese during the study.

These results are limited by the fact that BMI is not a perfect measure of fatness and cannot account for changes in body composition (e.g., loss of muscle mass and gain of fat mass). Furthermore, the study took place between 1971 and 2001, during which time obesity rates rose substantially, which may have affected the results. Finally, the participants were white, so the results cannot be generalized to other races and ethnicities that have different rates of weight gain.

How Does This Affect You?

These finding suggest that the problem of overweight and obesity in the United States may be even more widespread than previously thought. According to this study, the vast majority of American adults can expect to be or become overweight over 30 years, and almost half can expect to become obese.

People who are currently at a healthy weight should continue or adopt healthful lifestyle including regular exercise and a well-balanced diet, in order to maintain a healthy weight. And people who are overweight or obese should talk to their health care provider to devise a safe, effective plan for losing weight. If you need to lose weight, losing just 5% to 15% of your body weight can significantly reduce your risks for disease and improve your quality of life.