The Children

Diverging Trends in Obesity for American Youth

Obesity Prevalence Trends, U.S. Toddlers and TeensIt’s been a busy week of new statistics on obesity from CDC. The Centers released new data on childhood obesity trends for the U.S. Of course, the overall trend is up. Almost one in five youth (19 percent) ages 2-12 have a BMI in the range of obesity.  But it’s worth digging a bit deeper to look at the trends in different age groups. Toddlers and teens are now very clearly following diverging trendlines.

A Plateau for Toddlers?

Let’s face it. The data for obesity prevalence in toddlers is noisy. The numbers have been bouncing around since they hit a high point of 14 percent prevalence in 2004. After that, they dipped as low as eight percent, then came back up to 14 percent. Now they’re at 13 percent. But since they have not gone higher than the peak in 2004, it does look like the prevalence of obesity in toddlers has plateaued.

The speculators of childhood obesity prevention can now freely offer up their theories to explain it. Perhaps better nutrition standards for early childhood have had an effect. You can be sure that many stakeholders will be combing through data to make their case.

Relentless Increases for Teens

While we see some spark of hope in the trends in toddlers, the data for adolescents is not so encouraging. American youth in their teen years are experiencing ever more obesity. The latest CDC data tell us that prevalence rose again in 2018, reaching 21 percent. That’s more than one in five teens living with obesity.

Overall, six percent of American youth and children now have severe obesity. This represents six million of the young people who our future depends upon. And yet, the resources to help them are paltry. For those six million young people fewer than 50 centers exist to provide a full range of evidence-based obesity care. For these kids, glib advice to eat less and move more doesn’t help. In fact, it hurts.

Reasons for Hope

We do see some reasons for encouragement, though. The plateau in obesity for our youngest children is a good sign of progress. FDA has just approved two new treatment options for teens. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics affirmed the important role that bariatric and metabolic surgery can have for pediatric patients.

We must work to fulfill the hope that systems of care for youth with obesity will catch up to the new and better options that are becoming available.

Click here for the new statistics on childhood obesity from CDC.

The Children, painting by Childe Hassam / WikiArt

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December 15, 2020

One Response to “Diverging Trends in Obesity for American Youth”

  1. December 15, 2020 at 9:40 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Whether is’s 10 or 15% of 3-5 year olds who have the disease of obesity, they and their families still need help. It is a bad disease. See this Australian paper about that group -Lycett K, Juonala M, Magnussen CG, et al. Body Mass
    Index From Early to Late Childhood and Cardiometabolic
    Measurements at 11 to 12 years. Pediatrics. 2020;146(2):