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U. S. Childhood Obesity Rates are (Actually) on the Rise

By: NCSF  on:  Apr 17 2014
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In February, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a 43% drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year old children over the past decade, suggesting that young Americans are making strides in the fight against obesity. According to this report, about 8% of this population was obese in 2011-2012, down from 14% in 2003-2004. Headlines in The New York Times touting this new information read, “Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade”. Cynthia Ogden, a researcher for the CDC and lead author for the report, cautioned that while this research was “exciting”, these young children make up a very small fraction of the American population and that the figures for the broader society had remained flat or had even increased; perhaps suggesting that this headline may be sending an inaccurate message about obesity in America. Nonetheless, many theories arose to explain this decline in childhood obesity.

Researchers have reported a drop in overall calorie consumption, the consumption of fewer calories from sugary beverages, more women breast feeding and families purchasing more lower-calorie foods as possible explanations for this declining obesity rate. Another possible explanation was that a combination of state, local and federal policies directed at reducing obesity is starting to make a difference, prompting a remark from Michelle Obama, “I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans.”

Obviously, researchers welcomed this great news, but still warned that only time will tell if this progress will endure. Well, time has told…

A study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics (online) found that childhood obesity rates have actually increased over the past 14 years. This new study used the same data source as the CDC, but analyzed obesity rates over a different timeframe, looking at a few additional years. Asheley Cockrell Skinner of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who led the new study, cites “an unusual spike in the (2003-2004) number for whatever reason-probably an error” as a possible reason for the discrepancy in the findings of these two studies. "When you take a long view from 1999 to now, you don't see that decline”, Skinner said. Over the period analyzed, there was an increase in overall obesity rates from 14.5% in 1999-2000 to 17.3% in 2011-2012 as well as a marked increase in the rate of severe obesity. Skinner states that “the main message of her analysis is that childhood obesity rates have not improved”.

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