Obesity and Health

June 17, 1977

Report Outline
Growing National Health Problem
Diet and the Social Environment
Changing Approaches to Weight Loss
Special Focus

Growing National Health Problem

Extent and Causes of Obesity in America

Imprisoned in every fat man, British author Cyril Connolly once wrote, “a thin one is wildly signalling to be let out.” In America, that “thin man” is having a hard time escaping. Obesity, long the subject of humor, has become a national health problem involving tens of millions of people and recently drawing congressional attention. During hearings this year by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, Chairman George McGovern (D S.D.) called obesity this country's No. 1 form of malnutrition. Not only that, he said, the obese are getting fatter and the number of obese Americans is increasing every year.

The number of Americans who are overweight is largely a matter of conjecture. Some estimates by medical authorities run as high as 80 million. McGovern used the figure 30 million, of which, he said, 15 million “are obese to a degree that actually shortens their lives.” He defined obesity as being 20 per cent overweight based on height, sex and age. However, there are other definitions of obesity in use, and not everyone accepts the prevailing—sometimes diverse—standards of what constitutes “normal” weight. One set of standards that has gained wide acceptance for correlating weight with height and sex was devised by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

Regardless of the lack of consensus as to numbers and definitions, there is ample evidence that a sizable part of the U.S. adult population is overweight. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare last fall issued a four-year study it had conducted throughout the nation which found that the average height and weight, for men, was 5 feet 9 inches and 172 pounds and, for women, was 5 feet 3.6 inches and 143 pounds. By HEW's reckoning, the average male weight was 18 pounds heavier than it should have been, and the average female weight was 21 pounds heavier. According to other findings, a sizable number of schoolchildren and draft-age young men also have been overweight.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Nutrition and Health
Jul. 07, 2017  Hunger in America
Oct. 30, 2015  Dietary Supplements
Aug. 08, 2014  Global Hunger
Oct. 01, 2010  Preventing Obesity
Apr. 07, 2006  Rising Health Costs
Feb. 10, 2006  Eating Disorders Updated
Sep. 03, 2004  Dietary Supplements
Jan. 31, 2003  Obesity Epidemic
Feb. 23, 2001  Diet and Health
Jan. 15, 1999  Obesity and Health
Sep. 26, 1997  Youth Fitness
Apr. 14, 1995  Dieting and Health
Jul. 08, 1994  Dietary Supplements
Dec. 18, 1992  Eating Disorders
Nov. 06, 1992  Physical Fitness
Jul. 31, 1992  Infant Mortality
Oct. 25, 1991  World Hunger
Mar. 16, 1990  Public-Health Campaigns: Do They Go Too Far?
Apr. 29, 1988  How America Eats
Sep. 06, 1985  Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders
May 18, 1984  Dining in America
Aug. 26, 1983  Staying Healthy
Nov. 19, 1982  Weight Control: A National Obsession
Oct. 17, 1980  Caffeine Controversy
Apr. 14, 1978  Physical Fitness Boom
Jun. 17, 1977  Obesity and Health
Feb. 22, 1974  Heart Research
Aug. 01, 1973  Nutrition in America
Dec. 02, 1970  Infant Health
Nov. 15, 1967  Overweight and Health
Aug. 10, 1966  Dental Health
Jul. 13, 1966  Prolongation of Life
May 09, 1962  Outdoor Recreation
Nov. 26, 1958  Dieting and Health
Jul. 13, 1949  Recreation for Millions
May 13, 1941  Nutrition and National Health
Obesity and Weight Control