BACKGROUND: Marked increases in mean body mass index (BMI) and prevalence of obesity and overweight in the United States are well known. However, whether these average increases were accompanied by changing dispersion (or SD) remains understudied.
OBJECTIVE: We investigated population-level changes in the BMI distribution over time to understand how changes in dispersion reflect between-group compared with within-group inequalities in weight gain in the United States.
DESIGN: Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey (1993-2012), we analyzed associations between mean, SD, and median BMI and BMI at the 5th and 95th percentiles for 3,050,992 non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic men and women aged 25-64 y.
RESULTS: Overall, an increase of 1.0 in mean BMI (in kg/m²) was associated with an increase of 0.70 (95% CI: 0.67, 0.73) in the SD of BMI. A change of 1.0 in median BMI was associated with a change of 0.18 (95% CI: 0.14, 0.21) in the BMI value at the 5th percentile compared with a change of 2.94 (95% CI: 2.81, 3.07) at the 95th percentile. Quantile-quantile plots showed unequal changes in the BMI distribution, with pronounced changes at higher percentiles. Similar patterns were observed in subgroups stratified by sex, race-ethnicity, and education with non-Hispanic black women and women with less than a high school education having highest mean BMI, SD of BMI, and BMI values at the 5th and 95th percentiles.
CONCLUSIONS: Mean BMI and the percentage of overweight and obese individuals do not fully describe population changes in BMI. Increases in within-group inequality in BMI represent an underrecognized characteristic of population-level weight gain. Crucially, similar increases in dispersion within groups suggest that growing inequalities in BMI at the population level are not driven by these socioeconomic and demographic factors. Future research should focus on understanding factors driving inequalities in weight gain between individuals.
- African Americans
- Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
- Body Mass Index
- Cross-Sectional Studies
- Educational Status
- European Continental Ancestry Group
- Health Status Disparities
- Health Transition
- Hispanic Americans
- Middle Aged
- Nutrition Surveys
- Risk Factors
- Socioeconomic Factors
- United States
- Weight Gain
- Journal Article
- Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't