A large scale study of children between the ages of 2 to 19 finds that a growing number of young children are extremely obese—or have a body mass index greater than 35 kg/m. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children who are in the 85th up to 95th percentile (or have a BMI higher than 25 kg/m, and greater than 85–94% of their same-age peers) are categorized as overweight. Children whose BMI is equal to or greater than the 95th percentile, or higher than 30 kg/m, are categorized as obese. And children whose BMI is higher than 99% of their peers are categorized as extremely obese, according to Dr. Amy Porter, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente and co-author of the study published online today in the Journal of Pediatrics. The study included 710,949 children, who had an average of 2.6 doctor’s visits per year between 2006–2007, during which height and weight were measured. Analyzing that data, researchers found that 7.3% of boys and 5.5% of girls were extremely obese, a figure that suggests as many as 45,000 children between the ages of 2 to 19 are extremely obese across the U.S.
As with previous study into childhood obesity, this latest study, conducted by Porter and colleagues at Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s Department of Research and Evaluation, found ethnic discrepancies in obesity rates among children. While black teenage girls and Hispanic boys included in the study were the most likely to be extremely obese—with 12% and 11.2% respectively meeting the clinical criteria for extreme obesity—white, Asian and Pacific Islander children were the least likely to be extremely obese, researchers found.
This latest research adds to a growing movement to begin obesity prevention efforts among younger children by, among other things, educating parents and disrupting cultural norms that may set minority children up for a greater risk for obesity. Finding a way to overcome childhood obesity—and reduce the associated increase in risk for diabetes, heart disease and other health ailments—is becoming an increasingly urgent public health issue, as Michelle Obama’s recent Let’s Move campaign underscores, and distinguishing between the battle against obesity and discrimination against overweight children is going to be a central issue in any successful efforts, Porter emphasizes. In a video discussion of the study findings (below), Porter stresses the point: “Extremely obese children can be anything they want. But what you can’t be, if you’re extremely obese, is healthy.”
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