Obesity is seen everywhere we go. How prevalent is it however? I maintain that there is a dangerous trend among the current population of the United States, and that the trend points directly to an increase in factors of obesity.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the prevalence of being overweight in the children of the U.S. has been increasing since studies performed back in 1976 to current day.
Between the 1960's and 1994, the percentage of overweight among children 6 to 11 years of age has increased from 4 percent to 11 percent. What about recent trends though? Several sources that I researched state current levels and possibly why they are what they are.
Prevalence & Trends In Overweight Among US Children & Adolescents.
The first source I will discuss is Ogden et al. (2002) titled, "Prevalence and Trends in Overweight among US Children and Adolescents." This was designed as a study of 4,722 children, through survey, from their births to 19 years of age.
A special health survey called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was used to acquire the results of the children including their weight and height measurements during 1999 and 2000. The survey was designed to give a reliable cross-section probability sample of the U.S. population.
An Examination Of Trends
The goal of the study was to examine trends in overweight prevalence. The results were examined by sex, age group and race/ethnicity, and obesity was defined as at or above the 95th percentile of the gender-specific body mass index (BMI) for age growth charts.
The children involved would not necessarily carry over traits of overweight learned during their early years into adulthood presenting a health risk, but obesity during youth has proven to have more immediate consequences.
Such consequences are usually psychosocial and may include cardiovascular implications such as hypertension, high cholesterol levels and abnormal sugar (glucose) tolerance.
Results Of Ogden et al.
The results of the study were quite enlightening. The prevalence of being overweight among 2 to 5-year-olds was 10 percent, and with the 6 to 11-year-old and 12 to 19-year-old age group it was about 15 percent.
According to this study there has been a 4 percent increase in the 6 to 11-year-old group in only 6 years since the last study! This is a much faster increase than previously when the overweight measurements increased by only about 7 percent total in close to 30 years (the 1960's to 1994).
When comparing race/ethnicity with prevalence trends in overweight, the study found that 12 to 19-year-old non-Hispanic blacks was 23.6 percent and the Mexican American statistics showed an overweight level of 23.4 percent, compared to the non-Hispanic white statistic level of 12.7 percent.
The prevalence of overweight males was not much different than female statistics, but among Mexican-American adolescents the results were about one-half percent higher.
The study commented that the reason for overweight children is in their nutrition habits, resulting from taking in more calories than consumed and becoming more sedentary. According to Physical Activity and Health (1996), only about half of those surveyed from ages 12 to 21 reported regular participation in intense physical activity and one-fourth reported no activity in 1996.
Also, according to the American Obesity Association's website (2002), adults are faring worse and worse in statistics of overweight and obesity. Currently, 64.5 percent of adults in the US of age 20 on up are overweight and 30.5 percent are obese.
All of these statistics seem quite alarming to me, especially considering the rate at which they are increasing in comparison to the past. At the end of the study, the researchers mention that there need to be more studies to determine how to cut-off the prevalence of overweight trends among our youth, but it seems to me they've already answered their own study and found the reason: more calories consumed than expended.
According to Strauss and Knight (1999), Hilde Bruch best summarized the importance of the family environment nearly 25 years ago stating:
Prevalence Of Overweight & Obesity Among US Children, Adolescents & Adults.
The next source I would like to present is Hedley et al. (2004) entitled "Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity among US Children, Adolescents and Adults." This study used the same method for surveying a reliable cross-section probability sample of the U.S. population: NHANES. Both height and weight measurements were acquired from 4,115 adults and 4,018 children in 1999-2000 and from 4,390 adults and 4,258 children in 2001-2002.
The same requirements for determining overweight were used for children, specifically those being in or above the gender-specific 95th percentile of the BMI-for-age growth chart.
There were more specific categories in this study than the last including: overweight adults (BMI, 25.0-29.9) obesity among adults (BMI ? 30.0%), and extreme obesity among adults (BMI ? 40.0%). Again all of these were quantified by sex, age, and racial/ethnic group.
Results Of Hedley et al.
The results were as follows: between the 1999-2000 statistics and the 2001-2002 statistics, there were not significant differences in the overall levels of overweight and obesity among adults.
Please keep in mind that there were no significant changes, but there were changes. The article speaks from a medical and statistically based viewpoint, however the numbers did actually increase, if only by a small percentage.
I believe this is relevant because of past studies indicating a steady rise in the overweight statistics of the American population. In 2001-2002, 65.7 percent of adults were either overweight or obese, 30.6 percent were obese, and 5.1 percent were extremely obese.
Comparing these numbers with the statistics from 1999-2000 NHANES statistics we see 64.5 percent of adults were either overweight or obese, 30.5 percent were obese, and 4.7 percent were extremely obese. I believe that the first statistic is important showing a 1.2 percent increase in overweight/obesity category.
The second statistic of just the obese category showed only 0.1 percent increase between time periods, and the third category of extreme obesity yielded a net gain of just under 0.5 percent during the time period.
Among the children, ages 6 through 19 in 2001-2002, 31.5 percent were at risk for overweight or overweight and 16.5 percent were overweight. In 1999-2000, 29.9 percent were at risk for overweight or overweight, and 15.0 percent were overweight according to the 95th percentile of the BMI.
Again, like the last study, Mexican American boys showed higher numbers of overweight than the non-Hispanic white and black children.
The percentage of adults found to be at a healthy weight was 33.0 percent (BMI, 18.0-24.9). Adults 20-years-old and older showed an impressive 65.1 percent measuring at overweight or obese, 30.4 percent were obese, and 4.9 percent were extremely obese.
Sadly, in almost every age and racial/ethnic group, the overweight/obesity category tipped the scales at over 50 percent of the population!
The study commented that the information from the 1999-2000 (not even counting the 2001-2002 statistics) has provided statistical evidence of a continuing increase in obesity, and its prevalence.
The study also states that the short time frame in which these studies were compiled is not significant enough to determine whether there is a continuing upward trend, or if obesity rates have leveled off. I say you just go outside and look around.
Take A Look Outside
Better yet, go to a beach or swimming pool and take a reasonable look around. Even if the prevalence of overweight and obesity has leveled off, it is still too high and I believe that this is obvious.
Unsure Of The Evidence?
Just Look Outside.
The study mentioned that while there is a difference between racial/ethnic groups in children as far as obesity rates, there are no significant differences between racial/ethnic groups for obesity in men.
The prevalence of overweight for girls starting at age 6 and the prevalence of obesity for women of all age groups were significantly higher for non-Hispanic blacks than for non-Hispanic white women. Mexican-American women had significantly lower rates of obesity than non-Hispanic black women.
Life-Long Eating Patterns
Attwood (1999), maintains that, "it is necessary to understand that adults do not suddenly become obese... obesity usually has its beginnings during childhood, when life-long eating patterns and physical activity habits are established."
Attwood describes working in a clinic where he dealed with a case of obesity involving a young client named Benji.
At the age of 10, Benji weighed in at 140 pounds, which was about double his calculated ideal weight. At the clinic, Attwood learned in the beginning sessions with Benji that he spent 3 hours watching TV each day after school before his parents got home.
Soon after turning on the TV in the afternoons, Benji then would take up the task of finding a suitable snack.
Under normal circumstances, there were cookies or candy and possibly even some left-over dessert in the house. When his parents arrived home from work, they usually brought dinner from a fast-food restaurant.
Benji would consume whatever was supplied to him, and then do homework and maybe play some video-games before going to bed. The morning was not any better from a dietary viewpoint. In the same tradition as his parents, breakfast normally amounted to sweet rolls or a donut.
By the time Benji made it to lunchtime at the school cafeteria, he got french fries and either a hot dog or hamburger, a glass of milk, and whatever dessert he could find. He often traded food for the desserts originally belonging to his friends. Benji's daily diet was usually supplemented by several high-calorie snacks between meals.
Attwood states that this is actually not unusual for children his age in the US and many other Western nations. What is the reason for this? Inactivity coupled with an improper diet that is too high in calories and fat.
According to Attwood, "It's usually a family pattern-children tend to adopt the eating and activity habits of their parents-but not an inborn genetic trait."
Statistically speaking, if one parent is overweight, the chance that the child will have a weight problem is 40 percent. If both parents are overweight, that percentage doubles. Both of Benji's parents turned out to be extremely overweight.
"We're not really worried," his mother said, "he'll probably slim down as he gets older; his cousins did." This is not what the trends we have reviewed show. The most likely result is that Benji will become an overweight adult following his parent's pattern without a positive change in diet and intervention through exercise.
Turning A Blind Eye
There is a health risk that is never completely done away with concerning those children who carry excessive weight when they are young. This may be because excess numbers of fat cells are created during infancy and the years around adolescence.
These cells can never be destroyed, they will be with the child for the rest of their life. This may cause an individual to have an abnormally high body-fat percentage regardless of their weight.
Obesity should never be ignored. It is the earliest sign of possible health-related problems later in life. Is it genetic? No, it is based on lifestyle habits not our genes, affirms Attwood.
One of the most vivid examples of the increasing obesity in America is the remodeling actions taken on Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium was built in 1923, and in 1926 it had a capacity of 82,000.
In 1980, the capacity had dropped from 82,000 to 57,545. During that period of 50 years, the American rear-end had widened 5 inches on average from 14 inches to 19 inches!
American obesity is due to American lifestyle habits, not inborn genetic traits. It's quite obvious to see that the trend is not slowing down, it is only getting worse. Our culture which stresses and values speed and efficiency in the work-place, is trading healthy habits for those that are the easiest and fastest.
If we keep our choices out of balance, Yankee Stadium will eventually have to be torn down and completely rebuilt to accommodate the average American.
- Attwood C.R. (1997) Obesity Trends and Genes [Online 2005, February 28]
- Hedley, A.A., Ogden, C.L., Johnson, C.L., Carroll, M.D., Curtin, L.R., & Flegal, K.M. (2004)
- Overweight and Obesity among US Children, Adolescents, and Adults, 1999-2002. Journal of the American Medical Association, 291 (23), 2847-2850
- Ogden, C.L., Flegal, K.M., Carroll M.D., & Johnson C.L. (2002) Prevalence and Trends In Overweight Among US Children and Adolescents, 1999-2000. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288 (14), 1728-1732 (2002) Obesity in the US [Online 2005, February 28]
- Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. (1996) Atlanta, GA.
- Strauss, R.S., & Knight J. (1999) Influence of the Home Environment on the Development of Obesity in Children. PEDIATRICS Vol. 103 No. 6