Poverty, race, and gender are all factors in the epidemic of severely obese children

Research Activities, March 2010, No. 355

Children whose body mass indexes (BMIs) are in the 99th percentile for their age and gender are considered severely obese, which can lead to chronic health conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A new study finds that an estimated 2.7 million U.S. children are severely obese. This number jumped more than 300 percent since 1976 and 70 percent since 1994.

Researchers examined data representing 71 million U.S. children from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that black and Mexican American boys aged 12 to 19 are most likely to be severely obese. Poverty is also a risk factor. This may be explained in part because of the availability of cheap junk food and the dearth of affordable fresh produce in inner city areas, note the researchers. More than a third of severely obese children face significant health risks and meet criteria of the adult metabolic syndrome: large waistlines, high triglyceride levels, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels. Further, more than 400,000 adolescents may meet criteria to have bariatric surgery; that is, their BMIs classify them as morbidly obese.

Unfortunately, many severely obese children will carry their weight problems into adulthood, because clinical and behavioral programs to combat obesity may not be covered by insurance. What's more, physicians who provide these services may not be reimbursed; thus, there is little incentive to provide them in combating the current obesity crisis in children. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13901).

See "Prevalence and trends of severe obesity among U.S. children and adolescents," by Joseph A. Skelton, M.D., Stephen R. Cook, M.D., M.P.H., Peggy Auinger, M.S., and others in Academic Pediatrics 9(5), pp. 322-329, 2009.

Current as of March 2010
Internet Citation: Poverty, race, and gender are all factors in the epidemic of severely obese children: Research Activities, March 2010, No. 355. March 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/mar10/0310RA1.html