Weight-Control Practices Among U.S. Adults, 2001–2002


      Approximately $50 billion a year is spent by Americans on weight-loss products and services. Despite the high cost, few national studies have described specific weight-loss and weight-maintenance practices among U.S. adults. This analysis describes the use of specific practices by U.S. adults who tried to lose weight or tried only not to gain weight during the previous 12 months.


      Data were analyzed from the 2001–2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted on a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population. This study focused on adults aged 20 years or older who were both interviewed and examined (n =5027).


      Fifty-one percent of U.S. adults tried to control their weight in the previous 12 months, including those who tried to lose weight (34% of men, 48% of women) and those who tried only not to gain weight (11% vs 10%, respectively). Among 2051 adults who tried to control their weight, the top four practices were the same: ate less food (65% among those who tried to lose weight, 52% among those who tried only not to gain weight); exercised (61% vs 46%, respectively); ate less fat (46% vs 42%); and switched to foods with lower calories (37% vs 36%). Less than one fourth combined caloric restriction with the higher levels of physical activity (300 or more minutes per week) recommended in the 2005 dietary guidelines by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.


      Although weight control is a common concern, most people who try do not use recommended combinations of caloric restriction and adequate levels of physical activity.
      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to American Journal of Preventive Medicine
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


      1. Accessed September 4, 2005.

        • Serdula M.K.
        • Williamson D.F.
        • Anda R.F.
        • Levy A.
        • Heaton A.
        • Byers T.
        Weight control practices in adults.
        Am J Public Health. 1994; 84: 1821-1824
        • Kruger J.
        • Galuska D.A.
        • Serdula M.K.
        • Jones D.A.
        Attempting to lose weight. Specific practices among U.S. adults.
        Am J Prev Med. 2004; 26: 402-406
        • Serdula M.K.
        • Collins M.E.
        • Williamson D.F.
        • Anda R.F.
        • Pamuk E.
        • Byers T.E.
        Weight control practices of U.S. adolescents and adults.
        Ann Intern Med. 1993; 119: 667-671
        • Neumark-Sztainer D.
        • Rock C.L.
        • Thornquist M.D.
        • Cheskin L.J.
        • Neuhouser M.L.
        • Barnett M.J.
        Weight-control behaviors among adults and adolescents.
        Prev Med. 2000; 30: 381-391
        • Levy A.S.
        • Heaton A.W.
        National Institutes of Technology Assessment Conference.
        Ann Intern Med. 1993; 119: 661-666
        • National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
        Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Rockville MD1998
        • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture
        Dietary guidelines for Americans 2005. Distributed by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington DC2005
        • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
        National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001–2002 data files. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Hyattsville MD2005
        • Bish C.L.
        • Blanck H.M.
        • Serdula M.K.
        • Marcus M.
        • Kohl 3rd, H.W.
        • Khan L.K.
        Diet and physical activity behaviors among Americans trying to lose weight.
        Obes Res. 2005; 13: 596-607
        • Serdula M.K.
        • Mokdad A.H.
        • Williamson D.F.
        • Galuska D.A.
        • Mendlein J.M.
        • Heath G.W.
        Prevalence of attempting weight loss and strategies for controlling weight.
        JAMA. 1999; 282: 1353-1358
        • Rodin J.
        • Silberstein L.
        • Striegel-Moore R.
        Women and weight.
        Nebr Symp Motiv. 1984; 32: 267-307
        • Tiggemann M.
        Gender differences in the interrelationships between weight dissatisfaction, restraint, and self-esteem.
        Sex Roles. 1994; 30: 319-330
        • Tiggemann M.
        • Lynch J.E.
        Body image across the life span in adult women.
        Dev Psychol. 2001; 37: 243-253
        • Anderson L.A.
        • Eyler A.A.
        • Galuska D.A.
        • Brown D.R.
        • Brownson R.C.
        Relationship of satisfaction with body size and trying to lose weight in a national survey of overweight and obese women aged 40 and older, United States.
        Prev Med. 2002; 35: 390-396
        • Flynn K.J.
        • Fitzgibbon M.
        Body images and obesity risk among black females.
        Ann Behav Med. 1998; 20: 13-24
        • Meyers A.W.
        • Klesges R.C.
        • Winders S.E.
        • Ward K.D.
        • Peterson B.A.
        • Eck L.H.
        Are weight concerns predictive of smoking cessation? A prospective analysis.
        J Consult Clin Psychol. 1997; 65: 448-452
        • Klesges R.C.
        • Meyers A.W.
        • Klesges L.M.
        • LaVasque M.E.
        Smoking, body weight, and their effects on smoking behavior.
        Psychol Bull. 1989; 106: 204-230
        • Wee C.C.
        • Rigotti N.A.
        • Davis R.B.
        • Phillips R.S.
        Relationship between smoking and weight control efforts among adults in the united states.
        Arch Intern Med. 2001; 161: 546-550
        • Perkins K.A.
        Weight gain following smoking cessation.
        J Consult Clin Psychol. 1993; 61: 768-777
        • Klesges R.C.
        • Klesges L.M.
        • Meyers A.W.
        Relationship of smoking status, energy balance, and body weight.
        J Consult Clin Psychol. 1991; 59: 899-905
        • Stookey J.D.
        Energy density, energy intake and weight status in a large free-living sample of Chinese adults.
        Eur J Clin Nutr. 2001; 55: 349-359
        • Lappalainen R.
        • Mennen L.
        • van Weert L.
        • Mykkanen H.
        Drinking water with a meal.
        Eur J Clin Nutr. 1993; 47: 815-819
        • DellaValle D.M.
        • Roe L.S.
        • Rolls B.J.
        Does the consumption of caloric and non-caloric beverages with a meal affect energy intake?.
        Appetite. 2005; 44: 187-193
        • Dansinger M.L.
        • Gleason J.A.
        • Griffith J.L.
        • Selker H.P.
        • Schaefer E.J.
        Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction.
        JAMA. 2005; 293: 43-53
        • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
        Guide to clinical preventive services, 2005. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville MD2005 (June (AHRQ publication 05-0570).)
        • Briefel R.R.
        • Johnson C.L.
        Secular trends in dietary intake in the United States.
        Annu Rev Nutr. 2004; 24: 401-431
        • Jeffery R.W.
        • Utter J.
        The changing environment and population obesity in the United States.
        Obes Res. 2003; 11: 12S-22S
        • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
        Creating or improving access to places for physical activity is recommended to increase physical activity.
        Guide to Community Preventive Services website. 2005 (November Available at: Accessed January 18, 2006.)