Childhood obesity trends continue to be high; researchers blame processed foods and sedentary lifestyles.
Health experts believe about 20 percent of American children are affected by obesity, as well as about 40 percent of adults, and the total cost to the United States is estimated to be around $150 billion. A study published in Pediatric Obesity examined both short- and long-term trends and found, “A sharp increase in obesity since 2015-16 among children ages 2 to 5, especially boys. Girls 16 to 19 years old also had a notable jump in overweight rates, from 36 percent to 48 percent.”
Study authors noted, “Despite intense clinical and public health focus on obesity and weight-related behaviors in the past decade, results suggest these efforts have yet been able to counteract environmental forces that fuel excess weight gain in children, at least on a national scale. They call for more widely disseminated resources and additional research into the factors contributing to childhood obesity.”
“Processed food, and the advertising and marketing of it, in combination with a more sedentary lifestyle as children turn more and more to electronics, is one of the primary reasons for the problem,” according to Aaron E. Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute.
“A few years ago, there was also some hopeful evidence that obesity rates might be declining for preschool-aged children. Unfortunately, our data, looking at the same age group, show this decline now appears to be reversing,” said Asheley Skinner, a health services researcher and associate professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “This is not surprising, necessarily, but is disheartening. It tells us that our efforts to improve the health of children is not reaching across the country. We need to improve access to healthy food and physical activity and do it in a way that recognizes that parents have stressful lives.”
Last year, a study in the journal Pediatrics found “a continuous upward trend of obesity since 1999, with significant increases among young children, 2 to 5, and teen girls, 16 to 19, from 2015 to 2016, compared with previous years.”
“This study is important because it reminds us that obesity in children is not going away,” Skinner said, adding that there are two reasons why these new findings appear to contradict previous reports.
First, “the differences in the studies are the different time periods. We have the most recent data available,” she said. “Second, however, is that some studies have shown declines but have been based in smaller areas. We have seen some possible declines in certain school systems, which may have made beneficial changes that led to those changes.”
Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, said, “I’ve seen the very recent data that just came out on trends in obesity among adults, and it’s following the same type of trend. About 40% of adults are now considered obese, and the trends look very similar to what I see here for boys and girls, rising over the last decade.”
Lifestyle changes can help the obesity trend decrease. Limiting electronic use, encouraging physical activity and eating a healthy diet go a long way.