Sorry, Childhood Obesity Rates Aren’t Dropping After All

People hate being wrong. They hate it even more when they’re wrong about good news. That’s the situation researchers are now facing with contrasting reports about childhood obesity.

child obesity

In February, it was announced the obesity rate for children fell just over 40 percent in a decade. How great is that? A 40 percent drop in childhood obesity means progress in the fight against obesity is being made. A 40 percent drop means we’re finally gaining some ground. Unfortunately, that 40 percent drop doesn’t show the whole picture.

When looking at the data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine (UNC) did find the decline in childhood obesity reported by other researchers using the same the data. However, when they expanded their look at the data, the news wasn’t as good.

“Both our study and the prior one used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” Asheley Cockrell Skinner, PhD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at UNC said.

“However, the earlier study examined only the last decade, while we make use of all available years, from 1999 to 2024. In 2003, there was an unusual uptick in obesity among young children, which led to the appearance of a significant decline. However, when we look at the bigger picture, that change is not there.”

This big-picture view shows an increase in all classes of obesity in children over the last 14 years. There’s also a distinct upward trend in the most severe forms of obesity, the cases in which children have a BMI that’s 120- to 140-percent higher than their peers.

“An increase in more severe forms of obesity in children is particularly troubling,” Dr. Skinner said. “Extreme obesity is more clearly associated with heart disease and diabetes risk in children and adolescents, and is more difficult to treat.”

Beyond treating obesity-related diseases, researchers hope the health problem can be avoided altogether.

Authors on the study feel while some progress has been made in public policy and healthy messages, more must be done to help families be healthier.

Dr. Skinner added, “One of the most important messages is whether we have an environment that allows for activity and encourages a healthy diet for all children, regardless of their weight.”

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