Despite the efforts being put into tackling the childhood obesity crisis, a new study has shown there has been a significant increase in the number of children and teenagers being affected. The study looked at data on obesity rates across the US between 1999 and 2016 to analyse the prevalence of obesity among children aged 2-19. Worryingly, the researchers found an ongoing upwards trend in obesity since 1999, with teenage girls and children aged 2-5 seeing the biggest rise in numbers.
Obesity is a global problem. According to the WHO, the number of children under the age of five being classed as overweight or obese has increased from from 32 million in 1990 to 41 million in 2016. It’s been estimated that one in five children and teenagers are now obese in the US, and figures from the UK and other Western countries have reported similar figures. According to the CDC, the number of young people affected by obesity has tripled since the 1970s, and the associated risks like heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancers are an ongoing concern for health professionals.
Some previous reports into the issue had shown that the numbers had begun to decline across the US in recent years. However, this new evidence has shown that this most likely isn’t the case and there’s still work to be done. Asheley Skinner, a health services researcher and associate professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and author of the study said: “A few years ago, there was also some hopeful evidence that obesity rates might be declining for preschool-aged children.”
He added: “Unfortunately, our data, looking at the same age group, show this decline now appears to be reversing. This is not surprising, necessarily, but is disheartening. It tells us that our efforts to improve the health of children is not reaching across the country. We need to improve access to healthy food and physical activity, and do it in a way that recognizes that parents have stressful lives.”
Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta was not surprised by the results. He said: “I’ve seen the very recent data that just came out on trends in obesity among adults, and it’s following the same type of trend. About 40% of adults are now considered obese, and the trends look very similar to what I see here for boys and girls, rising over the last decade. Obesity by itself accounts for about 20% of what we spend on health care.”
Dr. David Ludwig, professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and founding director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Boston Children’s Hospital added: “The obesity epidemic threatens to shorten life expectancy in the United States and bankrupt the health care system. Yet progressive weight gain from one generation to the next is not inevitable. We have deep knowledge of the biological drivers of obesity, which include poor diet quality, excessive sedentary time, inadequate physical activity, stress, sleep deprivation, perinatal factors, and probably environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals. What is lacking is an effective strategy to address these drivers with sufficient intensity, consistency, and persistence.”