childhood obesity
July 22, 2014

Abdominal Obesity Rates Leveling Off In US Children And Adolescents

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The percentage of American children diagnosed with obesity as a result of their waistline size appears to be holding steady, according to new research published online Monday in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal Pediatrics.

In the study, researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from five different periods (2003-2004, 2005–2006, 2007–2008, 2009–2010, and 2011–2012). More than 16,000 US children and adolescents between the ages of two and 18 were included in the study, they noted.

According to UPI reporter Brooks Hays, the percentage of children considered to be abdominally obese (that is, considered to be obese based on the ratio of waistline to height) was 18 percent in 2012 – approximately the same amount as was reported in 2003. In short, as University of Minnesota associate professor of epidemiology Lyn Steffen put it: “Kids are not getting fatter. Abdominal obesity has been stable over the years.”

Steffen and her colleagues also found a clear age divide in abdominal obesity levels. While they reported a “significant decrease” in the condition in those between the ages of two and five, they also found that one-third of kids between the ages of six and 18 were considered obese based on waist-to-height ration, said Kathryn Doyle of Reuters.

Abdominal obesity levels in two- to five-year-old youngsters decreased between three and five percent between 2003 and 2012, Doyle said. Steffen explained to the news organization that obese children often carry that extra body weight with them into adulthood, and that extra fat around the waistline is associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes – to an even higher degree than regular obesity.

Steffen told HealthDay News reporter Steven Reinberg that part of the reason some childhood obesity levels are holding steady is the healthier meal options being offered at schools for breakfasts and lunches, as well as the removal of sugary beverages and sweet snacks from those educational facilities.

Steffen told Reuters Health that it’s “good” that “the prevalence of abdominal obesity remained the same over the last eight years… but the prevalence is still high, so we need to think about what to do to lower the numbers.” Likewise, University of North Carolina health policy, management and pediatrics researcher Asheley Cockrell Skinner told Doyle that while some obesity levels are “leveling off,” some more severe forms of the disease are on the rise.

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center, also told Reinberg that the results of the study were “good news,” but that it was troubling so many children were still overweight. She said it was important to make sure that children and adolescents were properly educated about making healthy food choices, and to work to dispel the myth that fast food and junk foods were less expensive than healthier options.

“We need to target not only the children and adolescents, but parents, schools and other providers of kids' meals and snacks to educate and motivate them to offer healthy choices,” she said, adding that people “can create inventive approaches to make foods like beans, brown rice, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole wheat crackers become go-to, convenient choices” as well as “shift the general opinion that healthy food is tasteless” through creativity.