Feb. 23, 2004 -- If anyone needed further proof that today's children are facing a rising battle of the bulge, here it is: A new study shows children's waistlines have grown by more than an inch and half in the last 20 years.
Researchers say that's the equivalent of two clothing sizes, and girls may be feeling the pinch faster than boys.
The study, published in the March issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood, indicates that children's weight gain is rapidly exceeding what would normally be expected for their gains in height and may be setting them up for health risks in the future.
Researchers say waist circumference as a measure of childhood obesity is especially worrying because of the association between abdominal girth and heart disease risks in adults. Extra fat around the waist or an apple-shaped physique has been linked to a higher risk of death because of heart disease.
Kids Waistlines Expanding
For the study, researchers followed a group of 315 English school children, currently between ages 12 and 14 years, and measured them periodically from 1996 to 2001.
The found that the heights and weights of the children increased significantly between 1996 and 2001, but the weight gain was much more than what would have been expected.
In 1996, one in 10 boys and one in eight girls was overweight, but by 2001 one in seven boys and one in six girls was overweight according to their BMI (body mass index, a measure of weight in relation to height).
The number of obese girls stayed about the same at 4% during the study period, but the percentage of obese boys rose from zero to 3%.
Researchers found waist measurements in 1996-1998 were also much bigger compared with those found in previous studies in the late 1970s and 1980s. The overall increase in waist circumference was about an inch and a half or 4 centimeters.
"This figure is all the more disturbing when one reflects on how many notches on a belt this represents," write researcher Mary Rudolf, MD, of Leeds Community and Mental Health Trust in Leeds, U.K., and colleagues.
Researchers say the findings show that more rigorous efforts are needed to combat childhood obesity.