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January 16, 2018

Evolving Societal Norms of Obesity: What Is the Appropriate Response?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, CUNY Institute for Demographic Research, Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, New York, New York
JAMA. 2018;319(3):221-222. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.18947

The prevalence of obesity in the United States has increased substantially since the late 1970s—more than doubling among adults (20 years and older) and nearly tripling among youth (aged 2-19 years). According to data from the 2013-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES),1 both the prevalence of adult obesity and the prevalence of youth obesity achieved all-time highs, 37.7% for adults and 17.2% for youth. Less well-known is that the perceptions of individuals about their own weight status have also changed in recent decades. Between the early 1990s and the early 2000s, the percentage of overweight (but not obese) individuals who described their weight as “about right” (rather than “overweight”) increased significantly, from 14% to 21% among women and from 41% to 46% among men. The percentage of obese individuals who felt about right also increased slightly, from 3.5% to 4% among women and from 11% to 12% among men, but these changes were not statistically significant.2

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