ATLANTA -- More American children are getting fat, with more than one-third now overweight. More of their dads are getting heavy, too.
But the percentage of women who are overweight seems to have peaked, leading some specialists to wonder whether the obesity epidemic may soon be leveling off.
Overall, larger proportions of the US public are overweight than ever before, according to the government's most accurate recent check of the nation's girth. But women, who as a group are more obese, seem to be holding steady.
The study didn't examine why more men and children are getting fatter and women aren't. But some specialists said the leveling off in women could signal a turning point in the obesity epidemic.
''Women have always been more responsible about health than the general population," said Dr. William Dietz of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reported the new data.
''I'd like to think this shows women are leading the way in recognizing obesity as a health threat," said Dietz, director of the CDC's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Another piece of research also suggests a turn. The NPD Group, a market research firm based in New York, found the percentage of overweight adults has held steady from 2002 to 2005.
''I would say it has leveled off. The bad news is we haven't found a way to lose weight," said Harry Balzer, vice president of NPD, which each year tracks what thousands of people eat as well as their self-reported height and weight.
The CDC report is being published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.
The findings come from the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which collects data on a sample of about 5,000 people each year. The researchers clustered years together, presenting calculations for 1999-2000, 2001-2002, and 2003-2004.
The survey is considered the gold standard for obesity data -- it's done through in-person examinations that include actual height and weight measurements.
That beats telephone surveys, in which men tend to overstate their height and heavy people underestimate weight, throwing off obesity calculations, said Cynthia Ogden, the study's lead author.
The study found the percentage of men who are overweight rose to 71 percent for 2003-2004, from 67 percent for 1999-2000.
For women, both the overweight and obese percentages held steady, at about 62 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
Why women held steady is not clear, but Balzer said it may have to do with a leveling of employment rates for women since the late 1990s. He also noted a leveling of the percentage of Americans who eat meals at home.
For youths, the percentage of boys ages 2 to 19 who were seriously overweight, or obese, rose to more than 18 percent in 2003-2004, from 14 percent four years earlier. For girls, the percentage rose to 16 percent, from about 14 percent.