Trends in body mass index in adolescence and young adulthood in the United States: 19592002

Hedwig Lee, Dohoon Lee, Guang Guo, Kathleen Mullan Harris

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72 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This study examined trends in body mass index (BMI) during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood by gender and race, using national data from the United States spanning for >40 years from 1959 and 2002. Although past research has investigated BMI trends separately in childhood/adolescence and adulthood, this study uniquely focused on the transition to adulthood (1226 years) to identify the emergence of the obesity epidemic during this critical life-stage. Methods: Longitudinal and cross-sectional data were obtained from four nationally representative surveys: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, National Health Interview Survey, and National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLSY79 and NLSY97). The analysis tracked age trends in BMI by time, which allowed for the examination of how BMI changed during the transition to adulthood and whether the patterns of change varied by period. Data best suited for trend analysis were identified. Age trends in BMI by gender and race were graphed and regression analysis was used to test for significant differences in the trends using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Results: BMI increased sharply in the adolescent ages, beginning in the 1990s and among young adults around 2000. This age pattern of BMI increase was more dramatic among females and blacks, particularly black females. Conclusions: BMI increased during the transition to adulthood and these increases have grown larger over time. Obesity prevention efforts should focus on this high-risk transition period, particularly among minority populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-608
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Dec

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development , with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgement is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( ).

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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