Child Obesity Has Grown Unabated Since 1999

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Thursday, April 28, 2016

Child Obesity Has Grown Unabated Since 1999

*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on Los Angeles Times.

A handful of preliminary studies in recent years has raised hopes the epidemic of U.S. child obesity has stabilized or reversed. But new research finds continued growth in our kids' girth, suggesting that self-congratulation would be premature.

Among children from infancy through age 18, rates of obesity have increased steadily from 1999 to 2014, and the numbers of children with the severest forms of obesity have risen most dramatically, a new study finds.

About a third -- 33.4% of American children in 2014 -- were overweight, and just over half of those kids (17.4% of all children) weighed in as obese (which is defined as being at or above the 95th percentile of height and weight on age- and gender-specific growth charts).

While most obese children are classified as having Class I obesity, about a third of obese kids (or 6.2% of all U.S. children) are thought to have severe obesity (either Class II obesity -- at or above 120% of the 95th percentile on the growth charts -- or Class III obesity, which is diagnosed when a child is at or above 140% of the 95th percentile for his or her age).

Rates of obesity among all American children have risen from 14.6% in 1999-2000 to 17.4% in 2013-14. The severely obese were a small slice of the population in 1999. But the percentage of children categorized with Class II and Class III obesity has risen steeply over the same period: from 4% to 6.3% for Class II-or-above obesity and from 0.9% to 2.4% for Class III obesity.

The new study, published in the journal Obesity, dims optimism prompted by research published two years ago, when a similar population-wide study found a large drop in obesity rates among toddlers, ages 2 to 5. The decline was hailed as the possible leading edge of a reversal in U.S. child obesity -- a positive response to public health initiatives aimed at driving down the nation's girth.

The authors of the current study, researchers at Duke University, University of North Carolina and Wake-Forest University, dashed even that small glimmer of hope. The reported decline, they wrote, "is not evident in our results, for girls or boys."

All told, 4.5 million U.S. children and adolescents are now considered severely obese, and they'll need "novel and intensive efforts for long-term obesity improvement," the researchers wrote.

Duke University's Asheley Cockrell Skinner, a childhood obesity expert and lead author of the study, called the hike in severe obesity the study's “most disheartening" finding.

Source: Los Angeles Times