Forecasting the obesity epidemic in the aging U.S. population

Y. Claire Wang, Graham A. Colditz, Karen M. Kuntz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Objective: The objective was to forecast BMI distribution in the U.S. population along with demographic changes based on past race-, sex-, and birth cohort-specific secular trends. Research Methods and Procedures: We compiled data from 44,184 subjects from 4 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES; 1971 to 2004). By race and sex, we fit regression models to create smoothed mean BMI curves by age for 1970 to 2010. Linking corresponding birth cohorts across age- and year-specific mean BMI projections, we estimated the trajectory of relative BMI throughout each cohort's lifetime. These projections were validated using actual cohorts in the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Combined with U.S. census, we predicted BMI distributions in 2010 and examined the joint impact of the obesity epidemic and population aging. Results: BMI secular trends in the past 3 decades differ significantly by birth cohort, sex, and race. If these trends continue, the prevalence of obesity is expected to reach 35%, 36%, 33%, and 55% in 2010 among white men, white women, black men, and black women, respectively, far from the Healthy People 2010 goal of 15%. Such forecasts translate into 9.3 million more obese adults 20 to 74 years of age than in 2000, 8.3 million of whom would be 50 years of age or older, and 8.5 million of whom would be white. The mean age among obese men and women is also expected to rise from 47 to 49 years among whites and from 43 to 44 years among blacks. Discussion: As the baby boom generation approaches retirement age, the continuing obesity epidemic signals a likely expansion in the population with obesity-related comorbidities. A framework to combine BMI and demographic trends is essential in evaluating the burden and disparity associated with the epidemic in the aging U.S. population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2855-2865
Number of pages11
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Aging
  • BMI
  • Population studies
  • Prediction
  • Public health


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