Number of Normal-Weight Americans Edges Out the Overweight

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Are we winning the battle of the bulge? Normal-weight Americans outnumbered the overweight for the first time in three years — at least according to Americans’ self-reports of weight in a Gallup poll.

A recent survey conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the percentage of normal-weight people narrowly edged out the overweight — 36.6% of the population versus 35.8% — in the third quarter of 2011. It’s the first time since January 2008, when Gallup and Healthways first started tracking Americans’ weight, that the number of overweight people dipped below those of normal weight.

The survey also found, however, that an additional 25.8% of Americans are obese. Tallied together, that means more than 60% of Americans still qualify as overweight or obese.

Still, over the past couple of years, the numbers of overweight and obese have been trending downward, the survey found. Why? Gallup suggests the full inventory of explanations:

  • Increased public awareness of the health effects of obesity and overweight
  • National initiatives like Michelle Obama’s 2010 Let’s Move! and the government’s plate-shaped nutrition icon, which encourage exercise and better eating
  • Increased investment by businesses in employee wellness programs
  • Less consumer spending on eating out; more eating at home

While encouraging, it’s too soon to say whether the data signal a fleeting dip or a real shift in obesity in America. Plus, the data come from self-reports, which aren’t always the most reliable.

The new survey included about 90,000 adults aged 18 or older in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, polled by phone from July to September. Gallup and Healthways used self-reports of respondents’ height and weight to calculate body mass index (BMI) scores. BMI values of 30 or higher are classified as obese; 25 to 29.9 as overweight; and 18.5 to 24.9 as normal weight.