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Child/Teen Obesity Rate Bad, Not Worse

Child Obesity Plateaus: 11% of Kids Heaviest of Heavy; 32% Still Overweight
WebMD Health News


May 27, 2008 -- For the first time in 20 years, America's child obesity rate hasn't gotten worse.

But it's not any better, according to the latest figures from the CDC.

  • 31.9% of kids are overweight
  • 16.3% of kids are obese
  • 11.3% of kids are in the "heaviest of the heavy" category

"The numbers are still too high, but there is cause for cautious optimism. It may be leveling off after steady increases," CDC epidemiologist Cynthia L. Ogden, PhD, tells WebMD.

The numbers come from in-home surveys in which trained researchers interviewed parents and examined a nationally representative sample of 8,165 children and adolescents. The findings are not based on parent reports, which tend to be highly inaccurate, so the CDC data is considered a true snapshot of American children's health.

From 1980 to 1989 and from 1990 to 1999, similar surveys revealed ballooning child and teen obesity. Surveys from 1999 to 2004 showed the weight trend continued to balloon. But data from 2003 to 2004 and from 2005 to 2006 showed no change from previous years.

"This is different from what we had been seeing in the 20 years before," Ogden says.

Just because the news isn't worse doesn't make it good. About a third of America's kids are in the 85th percentile in terms of their body mass index or BMI, a measure of weight that takes height into account.

These percentiles are based on growth charts that compare today's kids to the kids of the 1960s and 1970s. This means that 32% of today's kids are as heavy as the heaviest 15% of kids in the '60s and '70s -- and that 11.3% of today's kids are as heavy as the heaviest 3% of kids in the not-so-distant past.

And something else hasn't changed. There are still huge racial and ethnic differences in weight. For example:

  • Non-Hispanic black girls are 2.4 times more likely than non-Hispanic white girls to be in the "heaviest of heavy" category and two times more likely to be obese.
  • Mexican-American girls are 69% more likely than non-Hispanic white girls to be in the "heaviest of heavy" category.
  • Mexican-American boys are 88% more likely than non-Hispanic white boys to be in the "heaviest of heavy" category and 68% more likely to be in the obese category.

Child Obesity: Good News to Come?

Ogden's statistics suggest that the obesity epidemic is leveling off. Do these numbers reflect what's going on in the real world?

Yes, says family therapist Beth Passehl, MS, director of the Fit Kids and TIPPs for Kids programs at Children's Hospital of Atlanta. Passehl's community programs help the families of overweight and obese children to become more active and to eat more nutritious meals.

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