TUESDAY, July 5, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The obesity epidemic isn’t slowing down any time soon, and new research offers even worse news: Most American adults have not only gained more weight, but they won most of it earlier in life.
The statistics were grim: More than half of Americans in the representative sample had gained 5% or more in body weight over a 10-year period. More than a third of Americans had gained 10% or more in body weight. And nearly a fifth had gained 20% or more body weight.
It got worse: People gained more substantial amounts of weight earlier in adulthood, so they carried more of that extra weight for more years, the researchers found.
This pattern was surprising, said study author Larry Tucker, a professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, Utah. “What people don’t realize is that most of that weight, the actual weight gain, is greater at a younger age.”
In the study, his team selected data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) on the 10-year weight change patterns of more than 13,800 US adults.
In 2000, about 30.5% of adult Americans were obese. For 2017-2018, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 42.4% of US adults had reached that weight.
Those extra pounds accumulated in early adulthood: The average American gained about 17.6 pounds between the ages of 20 and 30, the study found. Meanwhile, the average person gained about 14.3 pounds in their 30s and 40s, 9.5 pounds in their 40s and 50s, and 4.6 pounds in their 50s and 60s.
The women gained twice as much weight as the men — 12 pounds, on average, compared to around 6 pounds. Black women had the highest average weight gain over 10 years, about 19.4 pounds.
The reasons for the increase nationally vary, Tucker said. The environment in which people live and eat is very different from what it was 50 or 100 years ago. Obesity rates didn’t start to rise until the late 1970s or early 1980s, she explained.
“That’s because some things happened very quickly,” Tucker said. “That’s when fast food became prevalent. Before, people had more control over what they ate. People sat down and ate. People planned ahead. ‘What are you having for dinner? What are you having for dinner tonight?’ ?'”.
Picking up what is certainly tasty, but calorie-laden fast food makes it hard for a person to control what they’re eating, he said.
“It takes a very conscientious person to fix that. I do this for a living and I’m skinny, but it’s because I’m very self-aware,” Tucker said.
The findings were recently published in the Obesity Magazine .
Dr. Ethan Lazarus, president of the Obesity Medicine Association, said he had never seen obesity studied in this way before.
“It definitely points to the idea that obesity is not an equal opportunity employer. Unfortunately, it is disproportionately affecting already marginalized groups with less access to care,” noted Lazarus, who was not part of the study.
One reason for the greater impact on women may be that they have experienced more environmental change than men in the past five decades, with more people in the workforce and also caring for families, she said.
“I think there’s a lot being published these days about higher stress levels and less sleep, and more sitting and more time looking at computer screens,” Lazarus said. “That’s become the normal American job, sitting in front of a computer all day and then we come home and we’re so tired all we can do is sit on the couch and play on the phone. It’s like We were never disconnected.” .”
Lazarus also pointed to the foods Americans eat, which come from a box with high amounts of sugar and little nutritional value, as a factor.
“What we see as a normal diet in the United States, I think is fueling this epidemic,” Lazarus said.
He suggested rethinking the values of earning money and working longer hours, and instead refocusing on personal health.
For those already living with obesity, the Obesity Medicine Association suggests healthy nutrition, physical activity counseling and what it calls intensive lifestyle intervention, which addresses issues that lead to weight gain, such as stress, lack of sleep and social events. A variety of new drugs can also target obesity, Lazarus said.
For people with more advanced or complicated obesity, there are surgical options, Lazarus said.
Tucker said she would like to see more education based on well-established principles of healthy eating from a young age, including not rewarding young people with food and encouraging the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
“I think knowing that at a young age with the medical community involved, with the schools involved, we don’t want people to obsess and think their worth is in their weight,” Tucker noted.
“That’s not healthy, but at the same time we want them to realize that it’s hard to be healthy,” he said. “It’s hard to prevent diabetes. It’s hard to prevent heart disease if people continue to gain weight and become obese.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on overweight and obesity.
SOURCES: Larry Tucker, PhD, professor, exercise science, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; Ethan Lazarus, MD, president of the Obesity Medicine Association and physician, Center for Clinical Nutrition, Greenwood Village, Colo.; Obesity MagazineMay 6, 2022