It’s good news and bad news – childhood obesity is holding steady but not increasing. Based on waist size, children are not getting more fat, but there are still many children who are classified as obese.
Researchers report that children aged 2 to 18 who were classified as obese based on waist size still held stady at nearly 18 percent from 2003 to 2012.
According to researcher Lyn Steffen, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, “Kids are not getting fatter. Abdominal obesity has been stable over the years.”
The study found that abdominal obesity in children ages 2 to 5 years fell significantly during that time frame. However, one-third of kids aged 6 to 18 years remain abdominally obese — “too many,” Steffen said. “We shouldn’t have chubby kids or chubby adults either.”
Steffen credits the leveling off of childhood obesity largely to healthier school breakfasts and lunches and the removal of soda and candy from schools. Many vending machines now offer healthier alternatives.
The report was published online July 21 in the journal Pediatrics.
Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said previous research has found that obesity rates in children have leveled off. This new report is consistent with that data, he said, but adds the significant point that obesity measured by waist size has, as expected, also leveled off.
That’s important, he said, because “abdominal obesity is most linked to health complications.”
However, the rate of obesity has stabilized at a very high plateau, Katz added. “The full health consequences of all the childhood obesity we already have still lie ahead, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” Katz said.
Also, while rates of overall obesity are relatively stable, rates of severe obesity are rising steeply, he added.
“We may no longer learn that much by asking how many kids are overweight now? We may need to ask how overweight are kids?” he said.