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Akron Univ. School of Law

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Childhood Obesity - Some Positive News - It isn't getting worse

The New York Times reports on some good news on childhood obesity - a plateau.  Tara Parker-Pope writes,

Childhood obesity, rising for more than two decades, appears to have hit a plateau, a potentially significant milestone in the battle against excessive weight gain among children.  But the finding, based on survey data gathered from 1999 to 2006 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in Wednesday’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, was greeted with guarded optimism.

It is not clear if the lull in childhood weight gain is permanent or even if it is the result of public anti-obesity efforts to limit junk food and increase physical activity in schools. Doctors noted that even if the trend held up, 32 percent of American schoolchildren remained overweight or obese, representing an entire generation that will be saddled with weight-related health problems as it ages.  “After 25 years of extraordinarily bad news about childhood obesity, this study provides a glimmer of hope,” said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the childhood obesity program at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “But it’s much too soon to know whether this is a true plateau in prevalence or just a temporary lull.”

The data come from thousands of children who have taken part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys — compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics at the C.D.C. since the 1960s — and represent some of the most reliable statistics available on the health of American children.  The most recent data is based on two surveys — one in 2003 to 2004 and one in 2005 to 2006 — that included 8,165 children ages 2 to 19. In that group, about 16 percent of children and teenagers were obese, which is defined as having a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile on United States growth charts. For example, a 10-year-old girl who is 4-foot-7 would be considered obese if her weight reached 100 pounds. By comparison, about 5 percent of children and teenagers in the United States were obese in the 1960s and 1970s. As startling as those numbers are, the good news is that from a statistical standpoint, obesity rates have not increased since 1999. Estimates for the number of children who fall into the overweight or obese category also have remained stable at about 32 percent since 1999. Overweight is defined as at or above the 85th percentile. . . . 

The researchers did not give reasons for the leveling off of childhood obesity rates. One concern is that the lull could represent a natural plateau that would have occurred regardless of public health efforts. . . .

One worry is that as obesity rates stabilize, financing for childhood health efforts will wane. In Arkansas, the program was a success but a financial crunch prompted the state legislature recently to cut physical activity programs in seventh through 12th grade.

While the latest data suggest the obesity epidemic may have been contained, researchers say the real question is whether it is possible to reverse the obesity trend among American schoolchildren.  “We still lack anything resembling a national strategy to take this problem seriously,” said Dr. Ludwig, co-author of an editorial accompanying the obesity report. “The rates of obesity in children are so hugely high that without any further increases, the impact of this epidemic will be felt with increasing severity for many years to come.”

National Public Radio had further information on its Morning Edition Program as well as a discussion of the difficulties of determing a child's BMI. 

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