Nearly 14 percent of America’s youngest children – those between two and five years old – are now obese, according to newly-released data.
Researchers at Duke University analyzed data from the CDC’s National health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that, contrary to prior claims, childhood obesity is not subsiding in the US, and there are worrying increases in its prevalence in some age groups.
The findings come months after the Trump administration introduced new school lunch guidelines, relaxing Obama-era nutritional requirements.
Obesity continues to plague more than one third of adults in the US, and the new study suggests that that proportion will only grow as younger generations do.
Nearly 14 percent of children in the US are obese, and the sharpest increases are among the youngest and most severely overweight children, a new national study found
Over the last two decades, the US has implemented countless awareness programs to try to combat the obesity epidemic.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama became a mascot for healthier children while her husband was in office, spearheading the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, designed to motivate children to eat healthier and stay active in an effort to promote overall health.
But in December of last year, the United States Department of Agriculture announced that it would relax the school lunch guidelines she championed – requiring more fresh fruits and vegetables and low-sugar dining options – in favor of new rules that would allow sweetened milk and sodium rich entrees.
Some optimistic studies have suggested that, at least among children, the epidemic may have stabilized in recent years.
But it seems the larger the data set examined, the more evidence there is that the problem remains pervasive, according to the new research, published in the journal Pediatrics.
Led by Dr Asheley Skinner of Duke University, the researchers analyzed data on a large, nationally representative sample from between 1999 and 2016.
They looked specifically at data filled out for people between two and 19 years old, and found that as children got older, more and more were overweight or obese, with 41.5 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds falling into one of the two categories.
Overall, 18.5 percent of children between two and 19 were found to be obese by 2016, up significantly from the 14 percent who were in 1999.
The Duke report comes at the same time that a UK study deemed millennials the ‘fattest’ generation. Taken together, the two reports describe an international epidemic far from subsiding among younger generations.
THE WESTERN DIET EXPLAINED
The Western diet is loosely defined as one full of fatty and sugary foods, such as burgers, fries and soda.
People often eat foods that are high in
- Saturated fats
- Red meats
- ‘Empty’ carbohydrates
- Junk Food
And low in
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole Grains
Health effects have been linked to things such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colorectal cancer and dementia.
But the starkest increase was among two- to five-year-olds. That group went from being nine percent obese in 1999 to 14 percent by 2016 – nearly double the rate reported 18 years prior.
Obesity during childhood significantly increases the risks that these individuals might suffer lifelong from high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, breathing and joint problems, and will be more likely to develop heart disease and fatty liver disease in adulthood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The new report did not find major changes in overall obesity in the most recent data sets – including those gathered since 2013 – but Dr Skinner and her team found more substantial changes in subsets of children.
They divided the condition into three groups, or classes I, II, and III, with class III consisting of the most severely obese children.
Worryingly, the study found ‘a significant increase in severe obesity among children aged 2 to 5 years since the 2013–2014 cycle, a trend that continued upward for many subgroups,’ the authors wrote.
‘Most kids that are overweight are still going to be healthy kids,’ Dr Skinner told Daily Mail Online.
‘They might have long-term effects, but these kids that have severe obesity are the ones I worry about today.
‘Diabetes is rare, but not as rare things like sleep apnea, asthma, and pain in their joints’ are likely from a young age, plus ‘if they have already developed obesity in pre-school, their obesity is going to be worse and worse the older they get,’ Dr Skinner says.
African American and Hispanic children are still at the greatest risk of obesity, with consistently higher rates across all obesity classifications, age and sex groups.
‘Despite intense clinical and public health focus on obesity and weight-related behaviors during the past decade, obesity prevalence remains high,’ the researchers wrote.
Dr Skinner says that these have been ‘large efforts, but sort of narrow ones.’
She says that changing approaches to school lunches, the produce covered by food stamps or ‘are not going to address all the issues.
‘We have to address everything.’
They added that there is ‘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.’
Instead, she suggests that efforts like putting sidewalks in more neighborhoods help to fill in a larger picture.
These are things that ‘we don’t do because we want to reduce obesity, or just because it’s good for health.
‘It looks inviting, property values go up…when we think about it from a global perspective, addressing a lot of these factors does seem feasible more so than when it is something just in the context of obesity’ Dr Skinner says.