America’s Childhood Obesity Epidemic Shows No Signs of Slowing, New Study Says

junk food one cause of child obesity

According to new research published by The Obesity Society, rates of childhood obesity continue to increase in America, with over 4.5 million American children and adolescents meeting the criteria for severe obesity.

The study, which was published in “Obesity,” the scientific journal of The Obesity Society, examined data from 1999 to 2014 and highlighted the clear increase of child obesity through these years, with nearly 10 percent of adolescents meeting criteria for severe class II obesity (BMI between 35.0 and 39.9) and nearly 5 percent meeting criteria for class III or high-risk obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40.0) in 2014.

The study also noted the particular prevalence of the problem amongst black and Hispanic children.

This upward trend of childhood obesity continues despite increased awareness of the problem in recent years. National Childhood Obesity Month has been observed in the United States since 2010, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to highlight the importance of healthy foods over the course of the past eight years have not gone unnoticed. These efforts have include tackling junk food ads in schools, planting the White House kitchen garden, and overhauling the nation’s school cafeteria offerings.

The pervasiveness of this problem makes it imperative to continue to raise awareness, lead researcher Asheley Skinner, PhD, of the Duke Clinical Research Institute, explains.

“We need to expand interventions that have shown success on local levels, and also look for completely new treatment approaches,” she says. “Addressing obesity in children is going to require a true population health approach, combining efforts at individual, healthcare, community and policy levels.”

Dr. Willaim Dietz, MD, PhD, Director and Chair of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University commented on the study, noting that lack of action regarding these findings could lead to an increased adult obesity epidemic.

“Children with severe obesity become adults with severe obesity,” he said. “My analyses suggest that every primary care provider is likely to have approximately 50 patients with severe obesity in his or her practice. That is an overwhelming number for primary care providers, most of whom are poorly prepared to treat obesity.”

Obesity has been linked to a number of health problems including increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, high blood pressure, and breathing trouble.

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Junk food image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco