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Study: U.S. Childhood Obesity Rates Have Increased Since 1999

Data contradict CDC report

A new study has found that childhood obesity rates have increased over the past 14 years in the U.S., casting doubt on a recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which indicated a sharp drop in preschool obesity rates over the past decade.

The CDC data, reported in February, received widespreasd media coverage and prompted First Lady Michelle Obama to say that she was “thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans.”

In the new study, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Wake Forest University examined the prevalence of obesity and severe obesity over 14 years (1999–2012) in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and evaluated differences in the trends by age, race/ethnicity, and sex. The study sample consisted of 26,690 U.S. children aged 2 to 19 years.

The main outcome was the prevalence of overweight (body mass index [BMI] ≥ 85th percentile); obesity (BMI ≥ 95th percentile for age and sex); class 2 obesity (BMI ≥ 120% of the 95th percentile or BMI ≥ 35); or class 3 obesity (BMI ≥ 140% of the 95th percentile or BMI ≥ 40).

The researchers found that, from 1999 to 2012, 17.3% of U.S. children aged 2 to 19 years were obese. In addition, 5.9% and 2.1% met the criteria for class 2 and class 3 obesity, respectively. The authors noted that although these rates were not significantly different from 2009 to 2010, all classes of obesity have increased over the past 14 years.

“Nationally representative data do not show any significant changes in obesity prevalence in the most recently available years, although the prevalence of obesity may be stabilizing,” the authors conclude. “Unfortunately, there is an upward trend of more severe forms of obesity, and further investigation into the causes of and solutions to this problem are needed.”

Sources: Reuters; April 8, 2014; and JAMA Pediatrics; April 7, 2014.

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