A new government survey helps quantify what doctors and public health officials have long known: Obese adults are significantly more likely to report having joint pain, heart conditions, high cholesterol and diabetes than people at a healthy weight.
In fact, 58% of adults who are obese (roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight) said they suffered from joint pain, vs. 40% of people at healthy weight, according to a survey from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancers and other health problems.
These statistics are from the government’s 2009 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a nationally representative survey of about 24,000 adults, ages 20 and older, followed for two years. People were asked a number of questions about their health, medical conditions, health care use, medical expenditures, source of payment and insurance coverage. They self-reported their height and weight and reported heights and weights for other household members.
Among the findings:
•About 42% of obese adults reported having a heart condition, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes or ministrokes, in 2009 vs. 18% of adults at a healthy weight.
•42% of the obese adults said they have high cholesterol vs. 22% of those at a healthy weight.
•15% of the obese respondents said they have diabetes; 4% of those at a healthy weight reported having diabetes.
•50% of obese adults reported having spent half an hour or more in moderate or vigorous physical activity three times a week, vs. 67% of those at a healthy weight.
•59% of obese people were advised by their doctor to exercise; 21% of people at a healthy weight got that advice.
•51% of obese people were advised by their doctor to avoid high-fat foods; 20% of those at a healthy weight got that advice.
“People who are overweight have more health problems, tend to be less active, and they are advised by their health care provider to do better,” says Jeff Rhoades, a social science analyst with the government agency and one of the authors of the study.
Survey statistician Bill Carroll, another author of the study, says, “I would think that all doctors would be advising their obese patients to exercise more and avoid high-fat foods, but doctors may be reluctant to bring this up.”
Overall, the 2009 data showed that 25.1% of adults are obese and 4.5% are extremely obese, for a total of 29.6% of people who were 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight. These data are self-reported, and people tend to under-report their weight and over-report their height.
The obesity percentage is slightly lower than other recently released government data, which showed that in 2010, 35.7% of U.S. adults were obese. That number is from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is considered the gold standard for evaluating the obesity problem in theUSA because it is an extensive survey of people whose weight and height are actually measured rather than self-reported.