Child obesity is more common, more severe, and occurs at earlier ages, according to a study.
Childhood and early adolescent obesity have been related to poor mental health and are often risk factors for chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, in adulthood.
Despite numerous public health initiatives to encourage healthy behaviors and improve living conditions, a recent study led by Solveig A. Cunningham, Ph.D., and published in Pediatrics found that the rates of new cases of obesity in elementary schools are higher and are occurring earlier in childhood than they were even ten years ago. Co-senior authors Michael R. Kramer, Ph.D., K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD, and postdoctoral fellow Rebecca Jones, Ph.D., are members of the interdisciplinary Emory team.
The researchers looked at which kids are most at risk for obesity and what ages they are most likely to have it. Data on kindergarten-age kids from 1998 and 2010 were compared, and they were tracked through fifth grade. Since the statistics are representative of the whole country, conclusions apply to all children growing up in the United States.
Major findings from the study include:
- Approximately 40 percent of today’s high school students and young adults had experienced obesity or could be categorized as overweight before leaving primary school.
- Children born in the 2000s experienced rates of obesity at higher levels and at younger ages than children 12 years earlier, despite public health campaigns and interventions aimed at preventing obesity.
- Non-Black Hispanic kindergartners had a 29 percent higher incidence of developing obesity by fifth grade compared to non-Black Hispanic kindergartners 12 years earlier.
- The risk of developing obesity in primary school among the most economically disadvantaged groups increased by 15 percent.
“These worrying data indicate that the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States continues to grow and get more serious. Our knowledge about effective interventions to fight this also seems limited,” says Narayan. “We urgently need an aggressive national strategy for interdisciplinary research and public health to stem the tide of childhood obesity and its consequences in the US and worldwide.”
Cunningham adds, “For decades, we have seen the number of children with obesity increasing, in spite of extensive efforts from many parents and policymakers to improve children’s nutrition, physical activity, and living environments. Have these efforts worked? Is obesity finally receding? Our findings indicate that no, obesity must continue to be a public health priority.”
Reference: “Changes in the Incidence of Childhood Obesity ” by Solveig A. Cunningham, Ph.D., Shakia T. Hardy, Ph.D., Rebecca Jones, Ph.D., Carmen Ng, Ph.D., Michael R. Kramer, Ph.D. and K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD, 5 July 2022, Pediatrics.