WASHINGTON – Despite efforts by local, state and federal governments to curb fat intake by children, American kids are still pigging out, leaving the trend of rising obesity among the young unabated, says a report published this month in the journal Pediatrics.
In fact, not only is the situation not improving, it’s getting worse.
“The main take-home message for me is that, clearly, obesity remains a problem,” says Asheley Skinner, an associate professor of population health services at Duke University and leader of the analysis. “It’s not improving.”
Childhood-obesity rates have been rising for decades, sparking widespread alarm among public health researchers and officials. Obese children tend to become obese adults, who are prone to many health problems, including cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
You might recall Michelle’s Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. There had been reports it was working. But the latest study refutes that notion.
That’s what Skinner and her colleagues discovered when they analyzed the latest national data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The latest data shows the percentage of children ages 2 to 19 who are obese increased from 14 percent in 1999 to 18.5 percent in 2015 and 2016.
The situation is even worse among the youngest children – ages 2 to 5 years old. In that age group, obesity increased from about 9 percent to almost 14 percent.
“It is a big jump,” Skinner says. “That’s the highest level of obesity that we’ve seen in 2- to 5-year-olds since 1999. 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. The earlier you start seeing this, the harder it is to address it for these kids.”
In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital calls for a more comprehensive national strategy for fighting the problem.
“We have known about this epidemic of childhood obesity – and have been pouring research dollars and public health dollars into this problem – for at least 20 years,” says Dr. Sarah Armstrong, an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke who helped conduct the analysis. “And despite that, we don’t seem to be making a big dent in the situation. We need to double down our efforts and find out what’s going to work, or the health of our future generation is really in jeopardy.”
Hispanic and African-American children continue to be much more likely to become obese than white children, the analysis shows.
“We haven’t generated a truly systematic or comprehensive approach across society that addresses all drivers of childhood obesity – poor diet, a lack of physical activity and a healthy food supply that will encourage everyone to eat well,” Ludwig says. “We need a truly national, comprehensive strategy to tackle this epidemic.”
Melinda Sothern, director of behavioral and community health sciences at Louisiana State University, suggests that trend may be the result of a “perfect storm” of stress, which, when combined with a “lack of access to healthy foods and opportunities for outdoor play,” can affect biology on a genetic level.