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Number of extremely obese buck downward trend

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By the numbers

Percentage of adults who were obese in:

1960: 13 percent

1980: 15 percent

1994: 23 percent

2000: 31 percent

2008: 34 percent

2010: 36 percent

2012: 35 percent

Source: CDC

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By USA Today
Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 6:36 p.m.

There are signs that Americans overall are getting a grip on their expanding waistlines for the first time in decades. But before anyone becomes too optimistic, the flip side is a significant jump in Americans who edged into the worrisome category of extremely obese.

The question then, heading into a New Year filled with well-intentioned resolutions for weight loss, is which trend will prevail? Is there reason to hope that Americans are turning a corner on a major public health issue?

“Americans seem to have woken up to the fact that we've got a problem, and the leveling off in obesity rates is a very good thing,” said obesity researcher Donna Ryan, a professor emeritus at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. “But there is still lots of hard work to do to get people to healthier weights.”

Recent government data showed that obesity among adults is continuing to level off after several decades of skyrocketing growth. In 2012, about 34.9 percent of Americans were obese, about 35 pounds over a healthy weight. That was not significantly different from the 35.7 percent who were obese in 2010, according to Cynthia Ogden, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Adults are considered obese if they have a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or greater. BMI takes into account height and weight. It measures body mass; it doesn't distinguish between fat and muscle.

At the same time, a disturbing trend is emerging: The percentage of people who are extremely obese, that is roughly 100 pounds over a healthy weight, rose from 2.8 percent in 1994 to 4.8 percent in 2004 to 6.3 percent in 2010, according to the CDC. A person is deemed extremely obese with a BMI of 40 or greater.

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