About half of U.S. adults are on a diet

Karen Kaplan
Los Angeles Times

Dieting has become the new normal in the U.S.

If you doubt this is true, just ask two American adults whether they’ve tried to lose weight in the past year. Odds are, one of them will say yes, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 2013 and 2016, 49.1 percent of Americans ages 20 and up told interviewers with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that they made an effort to shed some pounds in the previous 12 months.

Some Americans were more likely to diet than others. For instance, 56.4 percent of women tried to lose weight, versus 41.7 percent of men.

Age was a factor, too. Interviewers found that 52.4 percent of adults in their 40s and 50s had recently gone on a diet, compared with 49.7 percent of adults who were younger and 42.7 percent of adults who were older. (In every age group, women were more likely to diet than men.)

Race and ethnicity mattered less. A total of 49.4 percent of white men and women reported a weight-loss attempt, as did 48 percent of black adults and 49.1 percent of Latino adults. Those differences weren’t large enough to be statistically significant. However, all of those figures were higher than the 41.4 percent of Asian Americans who said they had dieted in the past 12 months.

Not surprisingly, the more extra pounds people had, the more likely they were to make an attempt to lose them.

Exactly two-thirds of adults who were obese (defined as having a body mass index of at least 30) said they had gone on a diet in the past year. So did 49 percent of adults who were merely overweight (with a BMI between 25 and just under 30).

Even 26.5 percent of the American adults who had a normal weight or were underweight (that is, anyone with a BMI under 25) said they had tried to slim down in the previous year.

They say you can never be too rich or too thin, and sure enough, the data revealed that people with more money were more inclined to watch their weight.

The CDC researchers split the participants into three income categories. At one end were people whose family income was at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level (in 2016, that would have been $15,444 for a single person or $31,590 for a family of four). At the other end were people with a family income above 350 percent of the federal poverty level (at least $41,580 for a single person or $85,127 for a family of four in 2016). Everyone else was in the middle.

The trend was clear: 42.9 percent of those in the lowest income group said they had been on a diet in the past year, compared with 48.7 percent of those in the middle group and 53.7 percent of those with the highest household incomes.

If people said they had tried to lose weight, the interviewers asked them how they did it. The most popular methods were exercising more and eating less – both were tried by 62.9 percent of dieters.

Most of the other answers were focused on food. For example, 50.4 percent of people said they “ate more fruits, vegetables, or salads,” 35.3 percent said they “switched to foods with lower calories,” and 44.7 percent said they “drank a lot of water.”

Though this might seem like an obvious strategy, only 42.4 percent said they cut back on “junk food or fast food.” Similarly, only 38.6 percent said they curbed their consumption of “sugar, candy, or sweets.”

The researchers didn’t report which weight-loss methods worked best. Nor did they say how many of the dieters succeeded in losing weight (though some of them did).

The report was published Thursday by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.