Yesterday we observed that global obesity rates have been soaring over the past 40 years. In the United States, the statistics are extremely worrisome to physicians and other public health experts. Last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity was 39.8% for adults and 18.5% in children and teenagers.
Adults 40-59 years old have the highest prevalence of obesity in the U.S. (42.8%), followed by the 60 and older age group (41%). 35.7% of adults 20-39 years old are obese. CDC breaks down the prevalence of obesity by pediatric age groups:
— 2-5 years old: 13.9%
— 6-11 years: 18.4%
— 12-19: 20.6%
It’s clear that the risk of being obese increases with age, peaking in middle age, and staying there. If the current trend continues (and there are no indications that it won’t), then the forecast from a study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine, that nearly 60% of today’s children will become tomorrow’s obese adults, is accurate:
Given the current level of childhood obesity, the models predicted that a majority of today’s children (57.3%…) will be obese at the age of 35 years, and roughly half of the projected prevalence will occur during childhood.
Children who are normal weight have a 38% chance of developing obesity by age 35. Children who are already overweight have a 75% chance of becoming obese adults, and those who are already obese will most likely remain that way through adulthood:
The study concludes:
On the basis of our simulation models, childhood obesity and overweight will continue to be a major health problem in the United States. Early development of obesity predicted obesity in adulthood, especially for children who were severely obese.
Kim Painter says action is necessary to turn these scary numbers around:
[Dr. Stephen] Daniels, who was not involved in the study, said the findings reflect “profound changes in physical activity and diet” that are hard to address. We live in a world, he said, where it’s easier for kids and parents to choose “high calorie, low-nutrient” foods and drinks than healthy ones. Meanwhile, he said, kids are often glued to screens that keep them immobile for many hours a day.
Potentially helpful policy changes, such as taxes on sugary drinks, need more research, he said. Beverage makers dispute any possible link between obesity rates and soda consumption.
“We have to figure out how to change our environments,” Daniels said. “We spend a lot of time talking to parents about changes we want them to make, but it’s an uphill climb for them.”
There are more solutions available to policymakers, says Gene Emery:
The research does not examine solutions. But the authors cite a 2015 study in the journal Health Affairs that concluded the three most cost-effective strategies for addressing childhood obesity would be a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, setting nutritional standards for all food sold in schools (outside school meals) and the elimination of the tax subsidy that food companies tap when they advertise unhealthy food to children.
An academic clinical nutritionist tells Alan Mozes that solutions to the obesity epidemic begin at home:
Because “obesity is difficult to reverse at any age,” she said, prevention is key. Parents should not rely solely on public school nutrition and activity programs to do the job.”
Concerned parents can make efforts to prepare and provide healthier foods at home, plan regular scheduled mealtimes, limit screen time, encourage participation in sports, encourage participation in active leisure time activities instead of more sedentary activities and, most of all, set an example by being active, having a healthy relationship with their own food choices and having regular mealtimes as well,” Sandon said.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the foods most strongly associated with weight gain in childhood.
Read The PediaBlog’s extensive coverage of the obesity epidemic in children here.