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Being underweight isn't the problem it once was

It's less prevalent than decades past. If someone is underweight today, there are probably underlying medical conditions.

July 20, 2009|Shari Roan

It's hard to believe, but being underweight used to be a considerable health problem in the United States. In the years from 1966 to 1970, 5.8% of children ages 6 to 11 and 4.6% of children ages 12 to 19 were underweight. From 1960 to 1962, 5.7% of people ages 20 to 39 were underweight.

How times have changed.

Today, people who are underweight are most likely those who have underlying medical conditions, according to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics. The rates of people of all ages who are underweight have declined significantly. Though some people may still be underweight due to malnutrition, many more become overweight as a consequence of eating a poor diet based on processed foods and saturated fat with little fruit, vegetables and lean meat and fish.

Survey data from 2003 to 2006 show 3.3% of children ages 2 to 19 are underweight. In children ages 2 to 5, the incidence declined from 5.8% in 1971-74 to 2.8% in 2003-06.

Among adults of all ages, the rates of underweight fell from 4% in 1960-62 to 1.8% in 2003-06. Five decades ago, 3.7% of people ages 60 to 74 were underweight. Today only 0.9% are underweight.

The statistics can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website, www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/hestats.htm.

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shari.roan@latimes.com

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