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NCES: More Young Adults Struggling With Weight; Exercise Rates Flat

Over the past 10 years, the percentage of young adults considered either overweight or obese has continued to rise, but they aren't dramatically shifting their exercise habits in response, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics.

My colleague Sarah Sparks wrote about the general findings from the study over on the Inside School Research blog yesterday. I'm here to dig into the weight & obesity and exercise statistics a little closer.

The NCES study examines data from young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 over the course of the past 30 years. According to the data, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds whose body mass indexes were considered healthy dropped by more than 5 percentage points from 1999 and 2008.

Meanwhile, the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds considered overweight or obese both rose in that same time frame. Overall, 24.2 percent of young adults were considered overweight in 1999, compared with 26.4 percent in 2008; overall obesity rose from 13.4 percent in 1999 to 16.3 percent in 2008.

There doesn't appear to be any difference based on gender. Both males and females were more likely to be considered overweight or obese in 2008 than they were in 1999, according to the data.

One finding I'm fascinated by: The percentage of underweight young adults did have a gender discrepancy, and likely not in the way you might expect.

The percentage of females considered underweight dropped from 6.6 percent in 1999 to 5.4 percent in 2008 (tied to eating-disorder prevention, perhaps?). But the percentage of underweight males actually rose over that decade, going from 2.2 percent in 1999 to 3.6 percent in 2008. When you combine both males and females, the percentage of total underweight young adults hardly shifted from 1999 to 2008.

When it came to the number of times that young adults exercise in a given week, there weren't nearly as many obvious trends in the data. Young adults ages 18 to 24 were slightly less likely to never engage in vigorous physical activity in 2008 (44.2 percent) than 1999 (44.9 percent), but they were also less likely to have five or more periods of vigorous physical activity in a given week in 2008 than 1999.

The most significant change, in terms of percentage, came in the group of those who would vigorously exercise less than once a week. Only 3.2 percent of young adults classified themselves as that in 1999, whereas that figure increased to 4.8 percent by 2008.

These findings are in line with a study released earlier this year at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, which suggested that students often engage in counterproductive behaviors when trying to lose weight.

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