Have Obesity Rates Hit Plateau?

There may be good news in the fight against obesity, said Dr. William Dietz, the director of the division of nutrition, physical activity, and obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to data released on Wednesday, obesity rates have remained constant for Americans for almost ten years for women and children and five years for men. “Right now we’ve halted the progress of the obesity epidemic,” said Dietz. “That said, I don’t think we have in place the kind of policy or environmental changes needed to reverse this epidemic just yet.”

This new information appears to reflect increased awareness of the epidemic of obesity affecting Americans. And while it’s promising, the plateau is at a very high level. Almost 34 percent of adults are obese, and 17 percent of children can also be considered obese. This has led some experts to respond with slightly more pessimism regarding this data. “Until we see rates improving, not just staying the same, we can’t have any confidence that our lifestyle has improved,” said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts. He suggested that this plateau might mean that Americans have reached a biological limit to just how obese we can get. “[A] population doesn’t keep getting heavier and heavier indefinitely.”

Dr. Steven Gortmaker, a Harvard public health professor, agreed with Ludwig. He said that obesity will not decline until new policies like incentives to promote healthier foods and exercise are in place. “If you look at the reversal of the smoking epidemic,” Gortmaker said, “substantial change didn’t really happen until there were bans on advertising and limits on consumption through things like taxation.”