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Percentage of Overweight, Obese Americans Swells

Americans Are Eating Poorly, Exercising Less, and Getting Bigger, Survey Finds
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 10, 2010 -- More Americans are becoming overweight or obese, exercising less, and eating unhealthy foods.

That’s the finding of the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which shows that 63.1% of adults in the U.S. were either overweight or obese in 2009.

That was a small but measurable increase from 62.2% the previous year. The survey finds that 36.6% of Americans are overweight and 26.5% obese.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index findings are based on telephone interviews with 673,000 adults in January 2008 to December 2009. About 90,000 surveys were done each quarter, and the margin of error for the quarterly results is +/- 0.3 percentage points.  

The survey finds that:

  • 59.2% of obese Americans exercised at least one day per week, compared to 69.9% of overweight people, and 73.8% of normal-weight people.
  • Obese people are less likely than people in every other weight category (overweight, normal weight, underweight) to have eaten five servings of fruits and vegetables on at least three days of the past seven.
  • Obese Americans also are less likely to say they ate healthy “all day yesterday.”

Here’s a breakdown of groups that ate the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables three to seven days per week:

  • 71.6% of normal-weight people
  • 69% of underweight people
  • 68.9% of overweight people
  • 67.2% of obese people

Body mass index (BMI) is a common measure of body fat based on height and weight.

(Calculate your body mass index at

A BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese, overweight if it’s between 25-29.9, normal if it’s 18.5-24.9, and underweight if it’s less than 18.5.

People who are obese are far more likely to report being diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or to have had a heart attack.

The survey found that:

  • Of people with high blood pressure, 46.2% were obese, 31.1% were overweight, 19.3% were of normal weight, and 17.2% underweight.
  • Of people with high cholesterol, 36.8% were obese, 30.1% overweight, 19.2% normal weight, and 14.1% underweight.
  • Of people with diabetes, 21.1% were obese, 9.8% overweight, 5% normal weight, and 4.2% underweight.
  • Of people reporting heart attacks, 6.3% were obese, 4.8% overweight, 3.3% normal weight, and 4.4% underweight.
  • Of depressed people, 23.3% were obese, 15.3% overweight, 15% normal weight, and 20% underweight.

The survey says that African-Americans in 2009 were among the most likely to be obese, at 36.2%, compared to the national average of 26.5%. The obesity rate among Hispanics, at 28.3%, is also higher than the national average. Asians are far less likely to be obese, with only 9.6% falling into that category.

The survey also reports that:

  • 18.3% of young Americans are obese, compared to 27.6% between ages 30-44 and 30.6% among 45- to 64-year-olds. Of people 65 and over, 24.2% are obese.
  • Men are more likely than women to be obese, 27.8% compared to 25.2%.

The report concludes that obesity is still on the rise and that reversing this trend may require the involvement of communities, businesses, and governments.

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