Health Team

Study: Childhood obesity may be leveling off

Posted May 27, 2008 6:31 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2008 10:56 p.m. EDT

— In recent years, the number of overweight children in the United States has been increasing. A new study, however, found signs that the trend is leveling off.

That's good news because children who are overweight are at higher risk of health complications in adulthood.

Brian Gordon is one of thousands who battled a weight problem as a child. It wasn't until he became active in sports that the pounds began to drop off.

“I gained a lot of weight in middle school and my parents got me into soccer, baseball and wrestling – things like that,” Gordon said.

Researchers with the National Center for Health Statistics analyzed data from more than 8,000 children and teens, ages 2 through 19. Looking at body mass index from 1999 to 2006, they found obesity levels stabilizing.

“This was true for boys and for girls. For whites, for African-Americans, Mexicans and it was even true when we picked three different levels of high body mass index,” said Cynthia Ogden, with the National Center for Health.

More than 16 percent of the children and teens in America are considered obese. While the numbers have not increased, they also have not decreased. However, ethnic and gender disparities persist.

Twenty-eight percent of African-American girls, 20 percent of Mexican-American girls and 14 percent of white teenage girls are overweight or obese.

“It's really important to get the education to kids to let them know what can happen if they're not getting exercise in the future. I don't think there's enough emphasis on that,” student Alisa Rank said.

“The main concern for teenagers is that if you're too heavy as a teen, you're likely to be obese as an adult and that can be a problem,” Ogden said.

The public health message remains the same: children and teens need a well-balanced diet and regular physical activity.

Researchers found that adolescents between ages 12 and 19 are more likely to be overweight or obese – compared with children ages 2 through 5.

The new study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.