A study published in the journal Obesity brings somber news about the nation's weight. Despite educational drives and public health messages, childhood obesity in America shows no signs of slowing.
Currently, more than 1 in 3 Americans are classed as obese.
Despite the fact that the health implications of obesity are well-known by the population, the juggernaut continues unabated.
The picture for young people is not much better; over the past 30 years, the rate of childhood obesity has doubled, and adolescent obesity has quadrupled.
As of 2012, almost 18 percent of children aged 6-11 years were obese. The basics behind obesity are simple to grasp: too many calories enter the body, and not enough are burned off.
However, changing the dietary habits of a nation is a slow process.
A recent study, carried out at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University, brings more detail about the state of childhood obesity, and, unfortunately, it does not paint a good picture.
Childhood obesity in America
"Despite some other recent reports, we found no indication of a decline in obesity prevalence in the United States in any group of children aged 2 through 19," says Asheley Skinner, PhD, who led the team of researchers.
The findings are not restricted only to those children at the lower end of the obesity scale, Skinner goes on: "This is particularly true with severe obesity, which remains high, especially among adolescents."
Skinner and her team scoured data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), an ongoing project that contains decades worth of data across a broad spectrum of American homes.
The data showed that for children aged 2-9, between 2013-2014, 33.4 percent were overweight; of those children, 17.4 percent were classed as obese. Those figures were not significantly different from the 2011-2012 time frame. More worryingly, when taken as a whole, there is a clear, statistically significant increase from 1999-2014.
Skinner says: "Most disheartening is the increase in severe obesity." It is the severe obesity category that shows the steepest rise in prevalence.
A body mass index (BMI) of at least 35 is defined as class 2 obesity; class 3 is a BMI of 40 or more. In the 2011-2012 period, compared with 2013-2014, class 2 obesity has increased from 5.9 percent to 6.3 percent and class 3 has risen from 2.1 percent to 2.4 percent.
These obese children face health issues now, and these will only worsen as time goes on, unless something drastic changes their behavior. Skinner says:
"An estimated 4.5 million children and adolescents have severe obesity, and they will require new and intensive efforts to steer them toward a healthier course.
Studies have repeatedly shown that obesity in childhood is associated with worse health and shortened lifespans as adults."
Childhood obesity in the future
Dr. Sarah Armstrong, a pediatrician and director of the Duke Healthy Lifestyles Program, was not involved in the research but confirms that the findings line up with her experiences on the frontline.
Although she acknowledges that people are aware of the health implications of obesity and that progress has been made in addressing the issues, changing the habits of a lifetime is difficult to achieve. She says:
"This study highlights that we may need to be more disruptive in our thinking about how we change the environment around children if we really want to see that statistic move on a national scale."
Skinner notes that the NHANES data does have certain limitations, but also that the database is much broader than other previous studies, some of which reported a decline or stagnation in obesity rates.
Rather than disheartening people, Skinner hopes that the findings can inspire change. "This is really a population health problem that will require changes across the board - food policy, access to healthcare, school curriculums that include physical education, community and local resources in parks and sidewalks. A lot of things put together can work," she says.
Obesity is certainly not a problem that will slip away easily, and the more information that is obtained regarding the size of the issue, the more easily public health officials can decide how to handle it.
Medical News Today recently covered research showing that kids' meals are still too high in fat and sodium.