We Wish Childhood Obesity Were Declining
Count us among the people who wish childhood obesity were declining. Unfortunately, the numbers are not cooperating. A new paper published today in Obesity by Asheley Skinner and colleagues presents a detailed analysis of childhood obesity trends in the latest NHANES analysis and finds “no evidence of a decline in obesity prevalence in any age group.” The first graph (on the right) depicts the data upon which they are basing their conclusion.
Bill Dietz has been front and center for decades in the work of reducing the impact of childhood obesity. He wrote a commentary published alongside Skinner’s new analysis. Dietz argues that one can find signs of progress in the prevention and control of childhood obesity. “It all depends on how you look at it,” he says.
Skinner et al and Dietz agree in many ways. But their conclusions about trends in children between the ages of two and five are distinctly different. Skinner et al say, “The significant decline previously reported in prevalence for 2- to 5-year olds for 2003–2012 is not evident in our results, for girls or boys, when using all data from 1999 to 2014.”
Their data for toddlers are represented in the graph on the left.
Dietz points out that finding a decline in these data “depends on whether you start with the 1999–2000 or 2003–2004 data.” He prefers a trendline that shows a significant decline (on the right) by excluding data before 2003. Dietz goes on to say that declines in the consumption of sugary drinks, fast food, and pizza observed over the past decade lead him to expect declines in obesity for children in this younger age group.
We believe it’s worth stepping back to look at the totality of the data we have. In children between two and five years of age, it seems that the rapid pace of increase in childhood obesity rates of the 1980s and 1990s did not continue past 2000. Since that time, the data has been up and down, as you can see in the graph on the left. This fluctuation may represent the beginning of a decline or it may represent a plateau.
Regardless, it remains clear that overall childhood obesity rates remain high and have not begun to drop. Worse, the burden of severe childhood obesity has grown to affect 4.5 million children and adolescents. Speaking for the Obesity Society, Elsie Taveras says this is where the urgent need lies:
This research emphasizes the urgency with which we must develop and validate a reimbursable standard of care for severe obesity in children and adolescents.
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April 26, 2016