As Americans Become More Obese, Fewer Are Trying to Lose Weight


America is getting plumper. And caring less about it.

Research published in JAMA by lead researcher Dr. Jian Zhang of Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, showed that overweight and obesity prevalence ballooned from 53 percent in the 1988-94 period to 66 percent — a full two-thirds of Americans — during 2009-14.

“Overweight” is classified by a body mass index (BMI) of 25 up to 30. “Obese” is considered 30 or greater.

Credit: Marjan Lazarevski/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

The study included 27,530 adults who completed the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They were asked, “During the past 12 months, have you tried to lose weight?” While 56 percent of those overweight during the 1988-94 period said they did, it had dipped to below half (49 percent) for 2009-14.

Black women were the largest group not watching their weight the way they once did, from two thirds of those overweight trying to take off pounds from 1988-94 to 55 percent in 2009-14.

Related: BMI Measurements Mislead Millions of Americans

“Socially acceptable body weight is increasing,” Zhang and co-authors write. “If more individuals who are overweight or obese are satisfied with their weight, fewer might be motivated to lose unhealthy weight.”

The results are a bit surprising given the national narrative about women being under pressure to maintain an unrealistic body image often perpetuated by a Hollywood ideal.

“This observation may be due to body weight misperception reducing motivation to engage in weight loss efforts or primary care physicians not discussing weight issues with patients,” state the authors of the JAMA letter. “The chronicity of obesity may also contribute. The longer adults live with obesity, the less they may be willing to attempt weight loss, in particular if they had attempted weight loss multiple times without success.”

Related: High Impact Exercise Proves Most Effective for Shedding Pounds

A recent article in Prevention magazine reported that nothing upsets a woman more than when her partner tells her she is overweight. “I almost hate to say it because it sounds like such a typical North American woman thing to say, but I really do hate when he even hints at me being overweight,” said a woman named Chelsey, 51. “I know I’ve put on some pounds these past few years, and I don’t like it and I’m sensitive about it. So, when he mentions that he notices it, it just boils my blood.” 

Analysis of the data in the JAMA report showed that white men and women also showed “a significantly declining trend of reporting efforts to lose weight among white men and women.”

Per Women’s Health, top reasons people throw in the towel on a diet is craving favorite foods, being hungry all the time, or not seeing immediate, visible weight loss.

Something that plays into a lot of those reasons is the notion that to lose weight you have to starve yourself. But studies have repeatedly shown that choosing the right foods and adding exercise to your daily routine will get you to your goals.