The average man or woman in the US is no longer just overweight, but can now be classified as just shy of being obese.
The average woman in the US was 170.6 pounds and 5 feet 3 inches tall and the average man was 197.9 pounds and 5 feet 7 inches tall in 2016, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
That’s an average weight gain of 6.8 pounds for women and 8.5 pounds for men in the last 18 years or so. In 2000, the average woman weighed 163.8 pounds and was 5 feet 3 inches tall, and the average man weighed 189.4 pounds and was 5 feet 7 inches in height.
That means the body mass index (BMI) — a measure of weight for height — of men is now 29.1, and for women, it’s 29.6. A BMI of 30 or over is considered obese, while a BMI of 25 to 29 is considered overweight.
The findings are from nine different surveys of more than 47,000 people ages 20 or older taken at 2-year intervals.
Keep in mind that BMI isn’t really a great measure of obesity because it doesn’t take into account that muscle weighs more than the same volume of fat in the body. So some people — men or women who are very muscular for their height — can be classified as obese when in fact they are not.
That said, it can be accurate for those of us who aren’t packed with muscle. About 40% of the US population can already be classified as obese.
“This report gives a broader picture of what’s happening with weight and height overall compared to just a prevalence estimate,” Cynthia Ogden, an epidemiologist and branch chief with the CDC, told BuzzFeed News.
She also noted the data are based on actual measurements taken by health professionals, not self-reports, which is useful because people tend to underestimate their weight and overestimate their height.
Although BMI isn’t the best tool for assessing health because it can’t differentiate between fat and muscle mass (among other issues), Ogden said it’s a useful data point for large groups over time because it can reveal trends.
“As long as you pick the same thing and look at it over time, you can see if it’s going up and down over time,” she said.
The size of the waistline may be a better measure of weight and health risks because visceral fat — the stuff that can pad organs in your midsection — is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other conditions. And yes, that’s going up too. Both men and women have added at least two inches to their waists since 1999, Ogden said.
There are also some notable differences in the data. Mexican American women put on more weight on average than other groups — 14 pounds since 1999. That’s compared to about 9 pounds for non-Hispanic white women and just 0.2 pounds for non-Hispanic black women.
And sorry, we are not getting taller. In fact, height has pretty much remained stable during an 18-year period.
There was even a tiny decrease in average height, although the report doesn’t delve into the reasons why. One theory, said Ogden, is that it’s because of the aging population, as people tend to shrink as they age.