Percentage of Overweight, Obese Americans Falling

For the first time in three years, more Americans are considered to be of “normal weight” than “overweight,” according to the results of a Gallop poll released on Friday.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, 36.6% of U.S. residents polled were said to be of normal weight, based on Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements calculated using the subject’s provided height and weight information.

That is an increase of one full percentage points over last year’s statistics. In comparison, 35.8% were deemed overweight (compared to 36.0% in 2010) and 25.8% were listed as obese (compared to 26.6% in 2010).

As Roy Strom of Reuters points out, combined more than 60% of the American population is still either overweight or obese. However, the study says that the shifting percentages were “an encouraging sign that obesity rates are trending downward in the U.S.”

The study points out that it is unclear whether or not this is a temporary trend or the beginning of a more permanent fitness movement. Likewise, the exact cause for the decline in overweight and obese Americans remains unclear.

“At this point, several possibilities exist,” Gallop’s Elizabeth Mendes wrote on the research firm’s website Friday. “Public awareness and government and business investment in changing Americans’ health habits may be playing some role.”

“Economic conditions could also be related to the decrease in unhealthy weight,” she added. “Americans continue to spend far less than before the financial crisis and so may be eating at home more and dining out on high-calorie foods less.”

“Regardless of the exact cause, if this downward trend continues, it could significantly reduce healthcare costs in the United States, a major portion of which are currently the result of obesity and related preventable chronic conditions,” Mendes concluded.

There is also some concern, according to Los Angeles Times blogger Michael Muskal, that respondents may not have been telling the truth when it came to their heights and weights, which were used by Gallop to compile BMI figures for all participants.

For the purposes of the survey, a BMI above 30 resulted in an obese classification. Participants scoring between 25.0 and 29.9 were deemed overweight, while those 18.5 to 24.9 were judged to be of normal weight. Those with a BMI under 18.4 were said to be “underweight.”

“African Americans, the middle-aged and those with low incomes continue to be the groups most likely to be far too plump, according to the survey data, which cover three quarters of 2011,” Muskal added. “Those with annual incomes of $36,000 to $89,999 had the biggest drop in obesity, a full percentage point from 2008. Asians showed the biggest gain, 3.3 percentage points, in obesity from 2008.”

The results of the study were compiled via telephone interviews conducted from July 1 through September 30, 2011. A random sample of 90,070 adults over the age of 18, representing all 50 U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia, were selected for participation through the use of random-digit-dial sampling, Gallop officials said.

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