Kids' Belly Fat Growing Fast
Abdominal Obesity Among Children Grew More Than 65% From 1988 to 2004
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 7, 2006 -- Potbellies are becoming all too common among children,
according to a new study that shows abdominal obesity in kids has increased by
more than 65% in recent years.
Researchers say the findings are especially troubling because belly fat is
now considered a better predictor of heart disease and diabetes risk than the more commonly used body
mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight in relationship to height).
It's the first national study to document the increase in children's
waistlines; it shows abdominal obesity increased by 65% among boys and nearly
70% among girls from 1988 to 2004.
Researchers say the findings paint a bleak picture for these children, who
have a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health
problems. But they say the good news is that it's not too late for children
with extra belly fat to do something to lower their health risk.
"Kids, teens and adults who have early stages of [hardening of the
arteries] can have a healthy cardiovascular system again," says researcher
Stephen Cook, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of
Rochester Medical Center's Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong, in a news
release. "Older adults who have plaque buildup have a much harder battle,
especially if the plaque has calcified."
Kids' Potbelly Problem
In the study, published in Pediatrics, researchers analyzed data
gathered by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from
1988 to 2004. Using waist size, they estimated the number of boys and girls
with abdominal obesity in four different age groups.
The results showed that the percentage of abdominal obesity in boys and
girls increased significantly in every age group between 1999 and 2004; the
increase in abdominal obesity in children rose even faster than those
classified as overweight.
For example, the percentage of 6- to 11 year-old children with high BMI
scores increased by 25% from 1999 to 2004, but the increase in the percentage
of children with abdominal obesity in this age group rose by more than 35%.
"Those increases only grow more alarming as you tease out specific age
groups over longer periods of time," says Cook. "For example, between
the 1988-1994 data and the 1999-2004 data, the largest relative increase in the
prevalence of abdominal obesity occurred among 2- to 5-year-old boys - 84
percent - and 18- to 19-year-old girls - 126 percent."
Waistline Wake-up Call
Cook says measuring a child's waistline is not a vital sign normally
performed at each checkup and there is no consensus yet on the cutoff point for
abdominal obesity. In this study, researchers considered children whose
waist-to-height ratio was in the 90th percentile or more as an indicator of
But he says the results should serve as a wake-up call to parents and
doctors to limit children's sedentary activities, like watching TV and playing
video games, and encourage them to be physically active to reduce the risk of
obesity and health problems later in life.