Kids' Obesity Numbers Leveling Out

Childhood obesity rates stabilizing but concerns for heaviest kids persist

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) In order to address childhood obesity, it's important to know how many children are obese in the US and whether that number is growing or shrinking.

A recent study reported those estimates and found that the rate of overall obesity has stabilized in the past several years.

It's not clear why the rate has stabilized, but the stability did not occur for the heaviest children.

The rates of children who fell into the most severe obesity categories have been steadily increasing even in more recent years.

"Discuss your child's weight with the pediatrician."

This study, led by Asheley Cockrell Skinner, PhD, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, estimated the rates of childhood obesity for more than a decade in the US.

The researchers tracked the weights of 26,690 children and teens, aged 2 to 19, who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 1999 through 2012.

They used body mass index (BMI) as their measure. BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight and is commonly used to determine how healthy a person's weight is.

The researchers specifically recorded the proportion of children falling into one of the following categories of weight:

  • overweight (BMI at 85th percentile or greater)
  • obesity (BMI at 95th percentile or greater)
  • class 2 obesity (BMI at least 120 percent of the 95th percentile or a BMI of 35 or greater)
  • class 3 obesity (BMI at least 140 percent of the 95th percentile or a BMI of 40 or greater)

The researchers found that 17.1 percent of children and teens in the US were obese from 2011 to 2012.

The researchers found that obesity rates in general increased over the 14-year period studied.

For example, the rate in 1999-2000 was 14.5 percent, which increased to 15.2 percent in 2001-2002 and then 17.3 percent in 2003-2004.

However, when the researchers compared the most recent rates to those from 2009 to 2010, they did not find that the rates were significantly different.

In fact, the rate remained close to 17 percent since 2003-2004, except a brief dip to 15.9 percent in 2005-2006.

The lack of a major change in the most recent years means that the rate of childhood obesity might be stabilizing, the researchers noted.

"Continuing research is needed to determine which, if any, public health interventions can be credited with this stability," they wrote.

However, the stabilization seen with obesity in general was not seen with the class 2 and class 3 obesity categories.

The rates in these categories have steadily increased, even in the most recent years.

The rate of class 2 obesity was 3.8 percent in 1999-2000. More recently, it was 5 percent in 2007-2008, 5.7 percent in 2009-2010 and 5.9 percent in 2011-2012.

Meanwhile, the rate of class 3 obesity was 0.9 percent in 1999-2000, and more recently it was 1.5 percent in 2007-2008, 1.6 percent in 2009-2010 and 2.1 percent in 2011-2012.

"Unfortunately, there is an upward trend of more severe forms of obesity and further investigations into the causes of and solutions to this problem are needed," the researchers wrote.

This study was published April 7 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 7, 2014
Last Updated:
April 8, 2014