Study: Childhood Obesity on the Rise

 Alexa Lardieri
  27th-Feb-2018

In a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found obesity among American children is still on the rise, with kids aged 2 to 5 years old seeing the most drastic increase.

Contrary to prior beliefs that childhood obesity was on the decline, the study found obesity is still widespread. Obesity is highest in African-American and Hispanic children. As many as half of all Hispanic children are either overweight or obese, according to the study.

"The main take-home message for me is that, clearly, obesity remains a problem," Asheley Skinner told NPR. Skinner is an associate professor of population health services at Duke University and leader of the study. "It's not improving."

Researchers examined data on more than 3,000 children from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, one of the federal government's main measures of childhood obesity.

The analysis found the percentage of children aged 2 to 19 years old who are obese increased from 14 percent in 1999 to 18.5 percent in 2015 and 2016. Additionally, the obesity rate in children aged 2 to 5 jumped from 9 to 14 percent, bringing them to their highest level of obesity since 1999, Skinner said.

"Obesity in the youngest group is a concern because when obesity starts younger, most of these children continue to have obesity throughout childhood and into adulthood," Skinner told NPR. "The earlier you start seeing this, the harder it is to address it for these kids."

The data also revealed there was no difference in the overall obesity rate between the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 data, smashing any hopes obesity had declined. Therefore, researchers concluded any observed declines in childhood obesity must have been anomalies or temporary.

Dr. Joseph Skelton, co-author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics at Wake Forest School of Medicine, told Consumer Reports the results show the importance of investing in children's health.

"This matters," said Skelton. "Investing in the health of children now is not only the right thing to do, it will save us money down the road."

Dr. Stephen Daniels, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and pediatrician-in-chief at the Children's Hospital Colorado, was not involved in the study, but said the findings were "concerning."

"What's concerning ... is that we know that once obesity is established, it's really hard to reverse," Daniels told Consumer Reports.

Dr. Sarah Armstrong, an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University who helped conduct the analysis, told NPR despite the research and public health money devoted to solving the "epidemic of childhood obesity," nothing seems "to be making a big dent in the situation."

"We need to double down our efforts and find out what's going to work," Armstrong told NPR. "Or the health of our future generation is really in jeopardy."

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