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Sep 24, 2014

Obesity Rates Plateau in U.S., but Waistlines Continue to Expand

More than half of American adults have abdominal obesity, according to national trends from the last decade.

Belly fat has become increasingly common in the last decade, according to national trends published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Abdominal obesity, defined as having a waistline of more than 35 inches in women and more than 40 inches in men, has been linked to serious health consequences, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even depression. Based on body mass index, an estimate of body fat based on height and weight, research shows that obesity trends have slowed in recent years. But this measurement doesn’t take into account how body fat is distributed throughout the body, leading researchers to wonder whether we should be focusing on changes in abdominal obesity in recent years.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2012, researchers analyzed trends in weight and waist circumference of U.S. adults. During this 13-year period, the average waist circumference increased from 37.6 inches to 38.8 inches, with even greater increases among minority populations. Overall, researchers found that national rates of abdominal obesity increased from 46.4% to 54.2% during this same period. Despite these changes, researchers failed to observe any significant increase in obesity rates based on body mass index calculations.

Belly fat is considered the worst type of fat there is when it comes to health. The fact that more than half of Americans now have abdominal obesity is concerning, especially given recent data suggesting that abdominal obesity continues to increase. Based on these trends, authors highlight the need for routine measurement of waist circumference during regular check-ups. Researchers also encourage further research on the subject to better understand why Americans are so prone to increases in belly fat. 

How to Measure Your Waist

Stand straight, but relaxed, in front of a mirror. Wear thin clothing or none at all. Don't exhale strongly or try to suck in your belly to make your waist appear smaller. Place the measuring tape around your waist, close to your belly button.

Men who have a waist circumference of more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) and women who have a waist measurement of more than 35 inches (88 centimeters) may have an increased risk of obesity-related diseases.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.
  • What is abdominal obesity?
  • Abdominal obesity is defined as having a waist circumference greater than 40 inches for a man or 35 inches for a woman. Although excess fat can have a negative impact on health, carrying extra belly fat is especially harmful, increasing risk for heart diseasediabetes and cancer, among other conditions. The good news is that losing just 3-5% of body weight can help reduce cardiovascular risk and improve overall health.

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