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Children's Health

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U.S. Has Most Overweight Teens

Childhood Obesity Leads to Heavy Adults With Health Problems
WebMD Health News

Jan. 5, 2004 -- The U.S. has more overweight teens than 14 other countries, a new study shows.

Childhood obesity has increasingly become a worldwide health crisis, writes lead researcher Inge Lissau, PhD, a Danish epidemiologist. Her report appears in the current Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Obesity in childhood and adolescence leads to health problems in adult years, with 50% to 80% of obese teens becoming obese adults, she writes.

For children and adolescents, a body mass index (BMI, an estimate of body fat) greater than 95% of children at a particular age is considered an indicator of being overweight.

Adolescence is a critical period for the onset of obesity and for obesity-associated death later in life, she writes.

Her study of 29,242 boys and girls -- all between 13 and 25 years old -- involved Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Ireland, Israel, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, and the U.S.

Based on height and weight information provided by each child, researchers calculated their BMI. They found this evidence of childhood obesity:

  • The U.S. had highest percent of overweight teens; Lithuania had the least.
  • Among 13-year-olds in the U.S., 13% of boys and 11% of girls were overweight. Among 15-year-olds, 14% of boys and 15% of girls were overweight.
  • Ireland, Finland, and Greece also had high numbers of teens with BMIs indicating they were either overweight or at risk for being overweight.
  • Countries with low prevalence were the Czech Republic, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Lithuania, and Sweden.

Childhood obesity is likely a much bigger problem than this study shows, since the teens provided information on their height and weight rather than having actual physical examinations, she writes.

Since most obese teens remain obese as adults, this age group is very important to reach through preventive programs addressing issues of diet and sedentary lifestyle changes, concludes the author.

SOURCE: Lissau, I. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, January 2004; vol 158: pp 27-35. News release, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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