US Obesity Childhood Trends and Trials

Pharma IQ

As recent work by the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests a couch potato lifestyle with six hours of TV a day cuts lifespan by five years. In this article Pharma IQ examines the US childhood obesity epidemic. 

Obesity in the United States is now reaching epidemic proportions – and not just among the adult population.

According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 1995, the first year for which information for all states was available, no state had an obesity rate greater than 19 percent. By 2010, there was no a single state with an obesity rate of lower than 20 per cent.

If obesity trends among children as they stand now continue, this figure - and the associated healthcare cost - is only likely to increase in the future.

The most recent nationwide statistics, from the Prevalence of Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, Trends 1963-1965 Through 2007-2008, report suggest roughly 17 percent of kids aged two to 19 are obese.

Prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has tripled since the 1980s and the condition now worst affects those within the six to 11-year-old age group.

Between 1976 and 1980, the obesity rate for this group sat at 6.5 percent, this increased to 19.6 percent for the years to 2007-2008. For pre-school children, those aged between two and five, the figure increased from 5 percent to 10.4 percent.

Mirroring a trend which is seen in a number of other developed countries, the prevalence of obesity within the United States is highest among low-income families.

One in seven pre-school children who came from a low-income family are obese, compared to roughly one in ten for the national average.

The CDC found that in over 37 percent of counties with more than 100 Paediatric Nutrition Surveillance Systemfiles - a scheme set up to monitor the nutrition of low-income families, - childhood obesity hit 15 percent. Over five percent of these have rates in excess of 20 percent.

It was found that even in those states where childhood obesity levels were below average, the figure increased for low-income counties.

Race and ethnicity were both found to have a profound impact on the chances of a child becoming obese. For the 2007/08 period, the prevalence of obesity among Mexican American boys sat at 26.8 percent, compared to 16.7 percent for non-Hispanic white boys.

Non-Hispanic black girls were most likely to be obese, with a rate of 29.2 percent, compared to 14.5 percent among non-Hispanic white girls

Reducing these rates will require a nationwide response. "The current childhood obesity epidemic is the result of many factors and may not be resolved by any single action," The Children's Food Environment State Indicator report from the CDC noted.

The report found behavioural indicators to have an impact on childhood obesity levels included consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, hours spent watching television, the location of a television in a bedroom and not eating meals as a family.

Work in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests a couch potato lifestyle with six hours of TV a day cuts lifespan by five years.

Indeed, much of the solution to combating the obesity epidemic, according to the CDC, lies outside the medical community. Policies it advocates include improving access to healthy food and recreational spaces and reducing access to sugary snacks and drinks.

"American society has become characterised by environments that promote increased consumption of less healthy food and physical inactivity," the CDC noted.

Among the facts it uses to support its approach include more than half of middle and high schools offering less healthy snacks and sugary foods, with a similar number are advertising such foods. Just 33 percent of students attended daily physical education classes in 2009.

The problem is clearly not one restricted to the United States. The World Health Organization estimated that in 2010 the number of children under five who are overweight will reach 42 million and as many as 37 million of these live in developing countries.

However, the United States does have resources to combat the problem in a way that many of these other countries do not.