The Grapevine

Childhood Obesity In America On The Rise Again

Optimistic reports from the beginning of the decade seemed to suggest that childhood obesity in the U.S. was on its way down. Researchers expected a continuation of the trend after the positive impact of initiatives like the Let's Move campaign by former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. However, a new study has revealed that the national health epidemic has actually worsened in the past few years. 

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

Researchers analyzed findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which collects data on childhood and adult obesity once every two years. Contradicting prior trends, the results of the study showed a worrying rise in childhood obesity in the U.S.

The data from 1999 to 2016 included more than 3,000 children aged 2 to 19 years, with height and weight measurements taken into consideration along with age to calculate a sex-specific Body Mass Index (BMI).

“Despite previous reports that obesity in children and adolescents has remained stable or decreased in recent years, we found no evidence of a decline in obesity prevalence at any age,” the study stated.

Although every sub-group of age, gender and race saw an upward trend in obesity, the rates observed in White and Asian-American children were lower as compared to those in African-American, Hispanic and children of other races.

The percentage of obese children increased from 14% in 1999 to 18.5% in 2015 and 2016, while adolescent girls aged 16 to 19 years saw a considerable increase in rates of obesity from 2015 to 2016. However, the largest spike was observed in children aged 2 to 5 years where the rates jumped from 9% to 14%, which is the highest they have been since 1999.

Skinner highlighted the youngest group as a major cause for concern because "when obesity starts younger, most of these children continue to have obesity throughout childhood and into adulthood".

Kenneth Thorpe, who is the chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and a professor at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, revealed that the results did not surprise him as he had recently seen similar trends in adult obesity.

A study conducted in 2017 showed that poor eating habits were one of the leading causes of death as they result in serious illnesses like blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes and more.

"Obesity by itself accounts for about 20% of what we spend on healthcare," Thorpe said. "Chronic diseases are linked to obesity. Whether it's high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, heart disease – obesity is a risk factor of all of those things, and those are all key drivers of healthcare spending."

With physical activity and a healthy diet absolutely necessary to maintain a healthy BMI, researchers have urged lawmakers and schools for stronger initiatives to fight the worsening epidemic among children.