African Americans are steadily growing around the waistline. According to the national report Health, United States, 2005, obesity in black women and black men jumped almost 11 and 7 percentage points, respectively, between 1994 and 2002.

Compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report presents national trends related to health statistics using random samplings of Americans. Because Latinos are too diverse a category to reliably measure, the study focused on Mexicans as a group.

From 1999 to 2002, 49.6% of black females age 20 to 74 were obese, compared with white females (31.3%) and Mexican females (38.9%). The figures have increased significantly: From 1988 to 2004, 39.1% of black women were obese, compared with white females (23.3%) and Mexican women (36.1%).

Although numbers remain high for African American males, they were least likely among men to be obese. African American males age 20 to 74 came in third (27.9%) compared to white males (28.7%) and Mexican men (29%) between 1999 and 2002. Those numbers are also up from 1988 to 1994. During that period, the percentage of obese African American males was second (21.3%) behind Mexican males (24.4%). White males were third (20.7%).

The numbers are even more alarming for overweight blacks; over 60% of males and nearly 80% of females are overweight.

Economic stability, resource accessibility, and awareness are three factors causing people to pack on the pounds, says Annie B. Carr, public health nutritionist in the CDC’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. “The most nutritious foods are unavailable; if they are they are too costly. And the communities they live in are not conducive to regular physical activity,” adds Carr.

Lowering obesity rates must start with prevention in young people, says Karen Donato, coordinator of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Obesity Education Initiative. “Overweight children will likely become overweight adults,” Donato asserts. “It boils down to making healthier food choices, increased physical activity, and screen time reduction.”