Despite widespread efforts, child obesity rates continue to increase in US

Despite national initiatives to reduce obesity in children in the United States, a new report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows rates have increased.

In a report published Feb. 28 in Pediatrics, the researchers used data from 1999 to 2016. Weight status was determined using height and weight measurements from the physical exam portion of the NHANES. Data was analyzed in two-year cycles.

“Nationally representative data provided by the NHANES demonstrates clearly that childhood obesity continues to be a significant concern for the United States,” wrote lead author Asheley Cockrell Skinner, PhD, with Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues. “The past 18 years have seen increases in the levels of severe obesity in all ages and populations despite increased attention and efforts across numerous domains of public health and individual care.”

Among the most notable findings reported:

  • The prevalence of obesity increased with age.
  • Nearly half of Hispanic children in the study were either overweight or obese.
  • 29 percent of the study population was overweight, and another 20 percent was obese when the study began in 1999.
  • 35 percent of the study population was overweight, and another 26 percent was obese when the study ended in 2016.
  • White and ethnically Asian children exhibited significantly lower rates of obesity than their black, Hispanic and other race counterparts.
  • Obesity and severe obesity increased for children aged 2 to 5 and for females aged 16 to 19.
  • Children young in age had two times the odds of obesity if they were of low socioeconomic status or if their parents were single or had limited education.
  • Children not breastfed were 50 percent more likely to be obese.

The researchers noted the most “disconcerting” findings were the disparities in obesity by race and ethnicity as nearly half of Hispanic children studied were classified as being overweight or obese.

“Despite intense clinical and public health focus on obesity and weight-related behaviors during the past decade, obesity prevalence remains high, with scant evidence that these efforts are counteracting the personal and environmental forces that contribute to excess weight gain in children, at least on a national scope,” the authors wrote.