End of US Childhood Obesity Epidemic?

So the big news yesterday in the US media and elsewhere was that the increase in childhood obesity seen over the last two decades appears to be leveling off.

This “news” comes from a paper just out in JAMA by Cynthia Ogden and colleagues from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Maryland, who examined the prevalence of overweight among US children and adolescents based on data from the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Overall, in 2003-2006, 11.3% of children and adolescents aged 2 through 19 years were at or above the 97th percentile of the 2000 BMI-for-age growth charts, 16.3% were at or above the 95th percentile, and 31.9% were at or above the 85th percentile.

But the key finding of this paper is that there was no significant increase in the prevalence of obesity over the 4 time periods (1999-2000, 2001-2002, 2003-2004, and 2005-2006) for either boys or girls.

From this the authors enthusiastically conclude that the prevalence of high BMI for age among US children and adolescents showed no significant changes between 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 and no significant trends between 1999 and 2006.

So what do we make of this?

The “glass-half-full” folks will of course see this as proof that public awareness and prevention interventions are working. The “glass-half-empty” folks will be sceptical, call this a statistical “blip” and point to the fact that even a true leveling off at such a high level is nothing to be complacent about.

The real cynics will say that this is no surprise at all because any kid who can potentially get obese already is – the rest are simply “obesity resistant”.

So now what? Do we pat our US colleagues on the shoulder and compliment them on the great success of their prevention efforts or do we point out that irrespective of whether the trend is leveling off or not, the current obesity rates in kids are simply unacceptable and they need to double (if not treble) their efforts at combating this epidemic?

I tend towards the latter – I think that not only in the US but also here in Canada and elsewhere we need to continue increasing our prevention efforts (and actually show that they work!), while at the same time expanding treatment options for those already struggling with excess weight.

30% obesity in kids is simply unacceptable!

Edmonton, Alberta

image by Derek Jensen