268 Calorie and Activity Statistics Explain America's Weight Problem
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Dynamic Chiropractic – October 1, 2013, Vol. 31, Issue 19

Calorie and Activity Statistics Explain America's Weight Problem

By G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN

Recently, a national online news magazine came out with what may be developing into an annual event. For the third straight year, the magazine asked experts to rate diets.

In this case, 19 panelists ranked 29 diets for a number of categories including weight loss.1 Since every diet has supporters and only one can have the highest ranking, this exercise can start as many arguments as ranking the 29 cutest breeds of puppies. After I read what they had to say, rather than getting pulled into a food fight (pun intended), my thoughts centered on why we need so many diets and decided it was time for an obesity update.

Even though the American Medical Association reclassified obesity as a disease during its 2013 annual meeting (more on that next month), America's obesity explosion appears to have leveled off. In fact, the U.S. is no longer the fattest nation on Earth, having just been passed by Mexico. The bad news is that almost seven out of 10 adults in America need to lose weight. (See Tables 1 and 2.) The reason is simple – too many calories ingested, too few calories expended.

Table 1: Body-Mass Index Classifications
Weight Status BMI
Underweight Less than 18.5
Normal Weight 18.5-24.9
Overweight 25.0-29.9
Obese Class 1 30.0-34.9
Obese Class 2 35.0-39.9
Obese Class 3 Over 40.0
Body mass index (BMI) is a popular way for epidemiologists to classify the weight of large groups of people. BMI is calculated in the following ways: body weight in kilograms divided by the height in meters squared; or body weight in pounds divided by the height in inches, squared and multiplied by 705.

The BMI is fairly accurate for normal people. It is not as accurate for extremely short people or athletic people (heavy exercisers) of normal size, and completely inaccurate for those who are heavily muscled. BMI accuracy improves when used to compare large sample sizes.

Table 2: BMI of American Adults, 1960-20102
Years Normal Weight Overweight / Obese Underweight
1960-62 51.2% 44.8% 4.0%
1971-74 48.8% 47.7% 3.5%
1976-80 49.6% 47.4% 3.0%
1988-94 41.7% 56.0% 2.3%
1999-2002 32.9% 65.2% 1.9%
2003-2006 31.4% 66.9% 1.7%
2007-2010 29.8% 68.5% 1.7%
I compiled Table 3 from information provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service division. In a long and complex process, they use a series of inventory measurements, estimates and formulas to calculate the average calories per day Americans consume. This is not an exact science, nor do any of the authors and/or the USDA staff claim otherwise. But it is an excellent tool to compare ourselves with ourselves over time.

Take a look at Table 3 and you will notice Americans went on a 25-year bender from 1975 to 2000. Although I elected to list data at five-year intervals, from 2000 to 2007, America hit a seven-year calorie plateau. From 2008 to 2010, there were slight declines for three straight years – something not seen since 1972 to 1975.

Table 3: Average Calories Per Person, Per Day by Category*3
Year Meat-Egg-Nut Dairy Fruit / Veg Grains Added Fats** Added Sugars** Calories
2010 544 232 208 596 588 367 2,534
2005 566 232 216 602 588 396 2,601
2000 555 231 228 625 545 415 2,600
1995 532 233 224 593 434 402 2,418
1990 521 236 211 566 410 369 2,313
1985 539 240 211 500 427 352 2,270
1980 518 228 199 459 372 225 2,112
1975 513 233 198 436 351 318 2,048
*From U.S. Department of Agriculture food disappearance data (beginning food stocks – ending stocks + imports – spillage, spoilage, plate waste, misc loss).=
**Excludes naturally occurring fats and sugars

If you compare 1975 with 2010, you will see an increase of approximately 484 calories per day, 92 percent of which (about t 446 calories) are from grains, added fats and added sugars. The approximate breakdown in terms of calorie source is approximately 237 calories from fats and approximately 209 calories from carbohydrates.

Table 4: U.S. Adults Meeting Guidelines for Muscle
Strengthening & Aerobic Activity (2011)*
  Men Women
Meet Both 25.0% 17.2%
Meet One 31.5% 31.3%
Meet Neither 43.5% 51.5%
While the anti-fat and anti-carb crowds continue to blame each other for America's weight problem, the data shows that seven out of 10 Americans didn't become overweight from a single macronutrient. Nor will the problem be solved by a single macronutrient. The best chance for success is to tailor a program to fit a person's specific needs. This conflicts with the current model of having people conform to a program.

couch potato - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Insufficient activity is the other major factor in the fattening of America. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published new exercise guidelines. Table 4 shows how many Americans meet the recommendations of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity and two days a week of strength exercise.

As Table 4 indicates, just over seven out of 10 adults are underactive. And Table 2 shows just under seven out of 10 adults are overweight. That must be a coincidence because "too many bites and too few steps" makes the problem seem too easy.


  1. "Diet Plans That Work: U.S. News Best Diets." U.S. News & World Report, January 2013.
  2. National Center for Health Statistics: Health, United States, 2012: With Special Feature on Emergency Care. Hyattsville, MD, 2013; Table 68, p. 220.
  3. Schiller JS, Lucas JW, Ward BW, Peregoy JA. Summary of health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2010. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat, 2012;10(252):100.
  4. National Center for Health Statistics, Op Cit; Table 67, p. 215.

Click here for previous articles by G. Douglas Andersen, DC, DACBSP, CCN.

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