CDC may have underestimated prevalence of obesity in U.S.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may have underestimated the number of obese adults in the U.S. in its 2013 Obesity Prevalence Maps by at least 12 million because of reliance upon self-reported height and weight figures, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues. The researchers upped the estimated number of obese adults in 2013 from about 69 million to 81 million of 240 million adults. Approximately 33 million of the 81 million were considered to have severe obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or above.

The study was published March 8, 2016 in PLOS ONE as part of the CHOICES Project, a research program to identify and prioritize cost-effective strategies to prevent childhood obesity. The CDC maps are updated annually and along with related data help drive state obesity prevention efforts and the allocation of federal obesity prevention resources.

“Accurate estimates of state-level obesity are necessary to plan for resources to address this epidemic,” said Zach Ward, lead author and programmer/analyst in the Center for Health Decision Science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Our corrected state-level estimates provide decision makers with a more solid foundation of data on which to base obesity prevention policies.”