The prevalence of pediatric obesity in the United States increased from 17% to 21% between 2011 and 2020, according to results published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Amanda E. Staiano, PhDassociate professor of pediatric obesity and health behavior at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, co-authored the letter.
“It’s really important in this country that we look at the prevalence of obesity to try to track the number of our obese children and adolescents,” Staiano told Healio.
“We’ve seen for several years, it’s been for decades now, that the prevalence of obesity, the number of obese children keeps increasing,” Staiano said. “But no one had looked to see in recent years if that was still the case, [or just looked] over the past decade, to see how we’re doing.
Staiano and co-author Kathy Hu examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a surveillance study conducted across the United States, examining the heights, weights and ages of the 14,967 children and adolescents included in the analysis.
“When you look at weight in children, you’re actually looking at a percentile, which means you’re comparing the child’s height and weight baseline data for the child’s age and sex,” said said Staiano. “All children above the 95th percentile are considered obese. So when these percentiles first appeared, one would expect only about 5% of children to be at above the 95th percentile. But what we’re seeing now is that 21% of kids are above the 95th percentile. That’s four times more than you would expect.
In 2011, 17% of children surveyed met the obesity percentile, a number that has risen to over 21% in 2021.
“What’s really troubling is that we know that when children develop obesity early in life, they are at a much higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma and many other illnesses,” Staiano said. “We see that in children; even middle and high school students develop these diseases.
“We really need early prevention and treatment efforts to help these children get back on a healthier path, because it becomes increasingly difficult as they age and reach adulthood to help people lose weight,” Staiano said.