Harvard Women's Health Watch

Women's waistlines are still increasing, study shows

Although the level of obesity has plateaued recently at around 35% of the population, waistlines are continuing to increase, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Sept. 17, 2014, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which more than 32,000 adults undergo physical examinations and complete questionnaires every two years. They found that from 1999 to 2012, the average body mass index (BMI) for women held steady. But during the same period, women's average waistline grew slowly and steadily, from 36.2 inches to 37.8 inches.

As waistlines expanded, the percentage of women with abdominal obesity—defined as a waist measurement of 35 inches or more—increased from 55% to 65%. Abdominal obesity usually means too much of both subcutaneous fat (the spare tire around the middle) and visceral fat (the padding around internal organs that is associated with a heightened risk of diabetes and heart disease). Why abdominal obesity is continuing to grow is a question for future study.

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