Research Summary

Overweight prevalence and trends for children and adolescents: The National-Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, 1963 to 1991

Prevalence of overweight increased significantly over several decades in US youth

Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

Over the past 40 to 50 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has conducted large national surveys to measure and better understand nutrition and health in the United States. By looking at some of these measurements over time, we can track changes with regards to various health measures, such as the prevalence of children and adolescents who are overweight. The purpose of this study was to examine prevalence of overweight and trends in overweight for children and adolescents in the US population. The study was conducted using a nationally representative cross-sectional surveys with an in-person interview and a medical examination, including measurement of height and weight. Authors utilized data from 3000 and 14,000 youths aged 6 through 17 years examined in each of five separate national surveys during 1963 to 1965, 1966 to 1970, 1971 to 1974, 1976 to 1980, and 1988 to 1991 (Cycles II and III of the National Health Examination Survey, and the first, second, and third National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys). From 1988 to 1991, the prevalence of overweight was 10.9% based on the 95th percentile and 22% based on the 85th percentile. Overweight prevalence increased during the period examined among all sex and age groups. The increase was greatest since 1976 to 1980, similar to findings previously reported for adults in the United States. The authors conclude that increasing overweight among youths implies a need to focus on primary prevention. Attempts to increase physical activity may provide a means to address this important public health problem.