Obesity May Be Leveling Off
May 27, 2008
TUESDAY, May 27 (HealthDay
News) -- In what may be the first good news in the
battle against obesity among America's children, federal
researchers report that the latest data suggest that the
number of overweight kids may be leveling off.
However, experts caution there's still much to be done
to improve the health of American children because the
number of youngsters who are overweight today is still
triple what it was in the 1960s and 1970s.
"The rates are still very high. But this study suggests
there may be some cause for optimism as the rate appears
fairly level over eight years," said study author
Cynthia Ogden, an epidemiologist at the National Center
for Health Statistics, whose findings are published in
the May 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical
Others agreed with Ogden's assessment.
"After 25 years of extraordinarily bad news about
childhood obesity, there is a glimmer of hope. But it's
much too soon to know whether rates have truly leveled
off," said the author of an accompanying editorial in
the same issue of the journal, Dr. David Ludwig,
director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at
Children's Hospital Boston.
"Even if they have leveled off, the prevalence is at
such high levels that unless we do something, unless we
redouble our efforts, this generation is in store for a
shorter and less healthful life than their parents,"
Using height and weight data from the U.S. National
Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the
researchers calculated the body-mass index (BMI) for
8,165 American children between the ages of 2 and 19.
The data used for the study was collected in 2003-04 and
again in 2005-06.
The researchers found no statistical difference between
the two time periods, and so combined them into one.
Between 2003 and 2006, 31.9 percent of American children
had a BMI higher than the 85th percentile for their
gender and age. A BMI above the 85th percentile means a
child is at risk of being overweight.
Slightly more than 16 percent of the children had a BMI
at or above the 95th percentile, indicating they were
overweight. And 11.3 percent had a BMI at or above the
97th percentile, indicating these kids were
When the researchers compared this data to data from as
far back as 1999, they found no statistically
significant differences in the prevalence of overweight
The researchers did find that Mexican-American girls and
boys, as well as non-Hispanic black girls, were more
likely to have a high BMI than non-Hispanic whites. But
Ogden said that, although these levels still remained
high, they also appeared to have leveled off.
The study didn't look at factors that might be
contributing to the trend, according to Ogden.
Ludwig said the numbers may have something to do with
all the attention that has been paid to the problem of
childhood obesity. But, he added, there still needs to
be much more focus given to the problem at a national
"We need a comprehensive national strategy. We need to
regulate junk food ads to kids, we need better school
lunch funding, better funding for regular physical
education in schools and after-school activities, and we
need improved insurance reimbursement for obesity
prevention and treatment services," he said.
"It's much too soon to tell if there's a true plateau or
if this is just a temporary lull. Without major declines
in prevalence, the health toll will continue to mount,"
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