After nearly tripling since 1980, recent estimates from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show what seems to be a holding pattern in the prevalence of childhood obesity.
Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be obese as adults, putting them at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and several cancers. Increased screen time (watching television, using computers, and playing video games), decreased cultural emphasis on physical activity, and poor quality diet may all play a part in the obesity epidemic.
The new study, which included 4,000 children and was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that between 2007 and 2008, about 10% of infants and toddlers were at or above the 95th percentile for weight, putting them in the "obese" category. Similarly, 17% of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years were obese, and 32% were considered overweight. Between 1999 and 2008, the prevalence of obesity and overweight has largely remained constant, with the exception of the heaviest boys between the ages of 6 and 19; this group appears to gaining weight.
Other countries, including Sweden and England, have shown similar trends towards a leveling off in childhood obesity rates.
While it is heartening that the prevalence of childhood obesity is not on the upswing, the numbers are still disturbingly high. "The results presented here indicate that the prevalence of high body mass index (BMI) in childhood has remained steady for ten years and has not declined. Moreover, the heaviest boys may be getting even heavier," the authors commented.