Up, Down, Sideways

Obesity Trends: Up, Down, and Sideways

If you’re confused about obesity trends, don’t feel bad. Epidemiologists from the CDC published quite a bit of new data in JAMA this week and you can find a wide range of trends in these publications. Just fish around in the numbers and you’re bound to find something you like.

If you want a happy story, you can go with the story that obesity in children between the ages of two and five is dropping. CDC is sticking with that story, but it’s not resonating in the media. Just a few weeks ago, Asheley Skinner, Eliana Perrin, and Joseph Skelton analyzed the same data and reported finding no support for a declining trend. Maybe that’s why the media didn’t go for the story of a decline in early childhood obesity this time.

Are you looking for stability? Then look at the trends for men. Nothing significant has happened – up or down – since 2005. Among children between six and eleven years old, the trend seems to have leveled off.

Are you looking for a troubling rise? The trend is up for women to a new high: a 40% prevalence. It’s also up for adolescents. More troubling still is the rate of severe obesity, which is growing for women and children, but not men.

Looking at this jumble of trends in obesity, we are reminded how little has really changed in the dismal dynamics of obesity over the last five years. The words of Susan and Jack Yanovski in a 2011 commentary still ring true:

“Regardless of the current trends in obesity prevalence, we are in trouble.”

Click here to read the study of childhood obesity trends and here for adult obesity trends. Click here and here for two companion commentaries. Click here for perspective from Stat and here for perspective from the LA Times.

Up, Down, Sideways. Photograph © Richard Cawood / flickr

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June 10, 2016

5 Responses to “Obesity Trends: Up, Down, and Sideways”

  1. June 10, 2016 at 7:00 am, Mary-Jo Overwater said:

    Epidemiological studies work beautifully for binary data and for diseases that have clear diagnostic criteria. I thought that when I was doing my degree in epidemiology, it would help me get clarity and understanding about the disease — where it existed the most and least and where it was rising the most and least, so as to pinpoint where interventions and preventions would be most beneficial. I quickly realized that it’s difficult to get clear, hard data for obesity because of the discrepancies in assessment, definition, criteria, and measurements for obesity. But, it is still helpful to do the studies of prevalence and incidence to get broad-stroke impressions. As we refine criteria and definitions and incorporate better measurements in studies, hopefully, the data will be that much more accurate and helpful.

    • June 10, 2016 at 7:49 am, Ted said:

      Perfectly well said, Mary-Jo. Thanks!

  2. June 10, 2016 at 10:02 am, Stephen Phillips said:

    For years epidemiologists have been great at “keeping score” of obesity trends.
    We can readily agree that globesity is the pandemic of the 21st century.
    What we need are less statistics and more solutions

    Stephen Phillips
    American Association of Bariatric Counselors

  3. June 10, 2016 at 12:31 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Bad is not better because it is not worse.

    I agree with Ms. Overwater – but we need more effective interventions in both areas – prevention and treatment.

    And as Mr. Phillips says – we need more solutions. We know the problem is there.

  4. June 18, 2016 at 9:37 am, David Brown said:

    The reason obesity remains a mystery is because most everyone is ignoring the fact that the 1,000 fold increase in linoleic acid intake from 1900 to 1999 is the most pronounced dietary change of the 20th Century. For more on this, Google – “Frances Sladek linoleic acid” and “Fat: The New Health Paradigm”.