Plummeting & Skyrocketing: Childhood Obesity, Diabetes

Plummeting and skyrocketing headlines about childhood obesity and diabetes are coming at us in close succession. There’s no hint of self awareness from health reporters about the incongruity of these reports.

A little over a month after headlines proclaimed “Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets” we have headlines proclaiming “Diabetes Rates Skyrocket in Kids and Teens.” And with the new stories, we have solemn experts, like David Ludwig, saying “the increase in type 2 diabetes appears to be driven by increasing rates of obesity, lack of exercise, and low-quality diets.”

But nowhere do these publications connect the dots back to the stories they printed barely a month ago proclaiming the decline of childhood obesity.

While the plummeting obesity headlines were pretty clearly a case of spinning a statistical fluke to serve a gratifying narrative, the increase in childhood diabetes appears to be real. Investigators found a 30% increase in type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents between 2001 and 2009. An increase of 21% in type 1 diabetes — which is not associated with obesity — was also found.

We can only hope that both reporters and policymakers will start to connect the dots. Childhood obesity is not under control. Total prevalence may plateau, but only because we’re running out of susceptible individuals. Within the population that is already affected, more severe forms of obesity continue to grow. With that growth in severe obesity comes growth in type 2 diabetes that will create a crushing burden of medical costs and suffering.

And when policymakers come to grips with that reality, perhaps we’ll get serious about the research and treatment programs that will be required to make a real dent in the problem. It will take something more substantial than just exhorting kids to get moving.

Click here to read more in USA Today and here to read the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A Beautiful Launch, photograph © NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / flickr

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