Americans Got Fatter Over the Past Two Decades Despite Rise in People Trying to Lose Weight, Study Shows

People in the U.S. have gotten fatter over the past two decades, despite a rise in people trying to lose weight, according to a study.

The research involved 48,026 people aged between 40 and 64 who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2016. Participants answered questions about their current and past body mass index (BMI) and weight, and whether and how they had tried to lose weight. Researchers also performed physical examinations on the volunteers. The nationally representative findings were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Between 1999 and 2016, the average BMI and weight of participants rose. But the proportion of people who said they had tried to lose weight also increased, from 34.3 percent to 42.2 percent.

At the same time, there was a decrease in people who were overweight or obese who considered themselves as such.

People who tried to shed pounds were most likely to try cutting back on food, exercise, and drinking water frequently. Between 2005 and 2016, when new questions were added to the survey, there was a sharp rise in people who said they ate more fruits, vegetables and salads, changed their eating habits, and ate less fast food.

The authors highlighted that while obesity is linked with chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and early death, "losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight remain significant challenges."

Between 2007 and 2016, the number of obese adults in the U.S. spiked from 33.7 percent to 39.6 percent, according to a study cited by the researchers who saw parallel trends in BMI among their participants.

Referring to others studies in their paper, the team pointed out the disparity in people's perceptions and reality. For instance, a 2008 study found that while 65 percent of Americans said they hit the targets for recommended levels of physical activity, only 5 percent actually did.

"Taken together, these findings suggest that although 34.3 percent to 42.2 percent of adults in the United States in our study reported weight loss efforts, many of them might not have actually implemented weight loss strategies or applied a minimal level of effort, which yielded unsatisfactory results," the authors said.

However, the authors said the study was limited because they relied on the respondents being honest about their perceptions of weight and their weight loss methods.

People need help understanding how to lose weight effectively, the researchers said, including how to correctly cut down the calories they consume and through exercise. This might include coming up with strategies that consider a person's preferences and abilities, the researchers said.

Last week, a study which also shone a spotlight on food culture in America found most foods eaten in the U.S.— including some marketed for weight loss—contain ingredients which make people want more.

These so-called hyper-palatable foods contain certain combinations of sugar, fat, salt and carbohydrates that tap into the brain's reward system and make it hard for us to stop eating them, according to scientists who published a definition in the journal Obesity.

Tera Fazzino, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, who lead the study, told Newsweek: "[Writer] Michael Pollan had a great message when she said 'don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.' I think that recommendation applies well in this case too."

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A stock image of a eating a green juice. The number of Americans trying to lose weight has risen of the past two decades, as obesity rates have risen, according to research.