The good news is, as we ve reported in the past, that overall rates of obesity in children and teens have stopped increasing. But, and it s an important but, the rate of severe obesity in kids has not leveled off. In a Scientific Statement, the American Heart Association reports that severe obesity affects between 4% and 6% of all youth in the United States, and the prevalence is increasing.
Based on data from several cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, as well as from over 700,000 youngsters from a Kaiser Permanente database, the statement documented a climb from 1.2 percent in 1976-1980 to 3.0 percent in 1988-1994, to 4.9 percent in 1999-2004.
Authors of the statement, led by Dr. Aaron S. Kelly of the AHA, proposed a standardized definition of severe obesity in children and adolescents, which had been lacking. Kids between the ages of 2 and 19 who have a BMI of 35 or more, or who have one that is 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their gender and age, would be considered severely obese. Under these conditions, a 7 year old girl who weighs 75 pounds, or a 13 year old boy who weighs 160 pounds would be considered severely obese (both would be of average height.). According to the statement, approximately four million American youths fall into this new category.
A report on this statement noted the enormous medical, public health and economic consequences that we can expect if this trend is not arrested. All the negative health consequences that are correlated with obesity in adults such as diabetes and heart disease will occur in these youngsters, but at an earlier age. In turn, this will mean more medical expenditures, a possible decrease in life expectancy and a decrease in the quality of life.
At present, only one weight control drug, orlistat, has been approved for use in children, and it s not clear that this is very effective.
ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava says, Anyone interested in public health should be very concerned about this trend, since it will seriously impact the health of future generations. We need more effective means of helping children avoid severe obesity whether that means additional pharmaceuticals, better behavioral interventions, or both. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that when you re treating the young, you may also have to deal with familial problems as well whether genetic or behavioral. There s not just one patient involved.