Prevalence of high body mass index among children and teens remains steady

Jan 13, 2010

The prevalence of high weight for length or high body mass index (BMI) among children and teens in the U.S. (i.e., at or above the 95th percentile), ranges from approximately 10 percent for infants and toddlers, to approximately 18 percent for adolescents and teenagers, although these rates appear to have remained relatively stable over the past 10 years, except for an increase for 6- to 19-year-old boys who are at the very heaviest weight levels, according to a study appearing in the January 20 issue of JAMA. The study is being published early online because of its public health importance.

"High BMI among and continues to be a public health concern in the United States. Children with high BMI often become obese adults, and obese adults are at risk for many chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers," the authors write. "Since 1980, the prevalence of BMI for age at or above the 95th percentile (sometimes termed 'obese') has tripled among school-age children and adolescents, and it remains high at approximately 17 percent. However, the prevalence of BMI for age at or above the 95th percentile among children and adolescents showed no significant changes between 1999 and 2006 for both and or among non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Mexican American individuals."

Cynthia L. Ogden, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Md., and colleagues used 2007-2008 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES; a nationally representative sample of the U.S. population) to determine the most recent estimates of prevalence of high BMI among children and adolescents ages 2 through 19 years and high weight for recumbent length among infants and toddlers. The researchers also examined trends in overweight prevalence between 1999 and 2008. The analysis included height and weight statistics for 3,281 children and adolescents (ages 2 through 19 years) and 719 infants and toddlers (birth to 2 years of age).

Categories of weight included the prevalence of high weight for recumbent length (at or above the 95th percentile of the growth charts) among infants and toddlers. Prevalence of high BMI among children and adolescents was defined at 3 levels: BMI for age at or above the 97th percentile, at or above the 95th percentile, and at or above the 85th percentile of the BMI-for-age growth charts.

The researchers found that 9.5 percent of infants and toddlers younger than 2 years were at or above the 95th percentile of the weight-for-recumbent-length growth charts. For children and adolescents ages 2 through 19 years, 11.9 percent were at or above the 97th percentile, 16.9 percent were at or above the 95th percentile, and 31.7 percent were at or above the 85th percentile of BMI for age. "Based on the adult definition of obesity (BMI 30 or greater), in 2007-2008, 12.6 percent of adolescents aged 12 through 19 years were obese," the authors write.

Categorized by different age groups, 10.4 percent of 2- through 5-year-old children, 19.6 percent of 6- through 11-year-old children, and 18.1 percent of 12- through 19-year-old adolescents were at or above the 95th percentile of BMI for age.

Additional analyses indicated no significant trend in high weight for length or high BMI between 1999-2000 and 2007-2008 except at the highest BMI cut point (BMI for age at or above 97th percentile) among all 6- through 19-year-old boys and among non-Hispanic white boys of the same age.

"There are currently many efforts underway aimed at preventing childhood obesity. Funded research on interventions related to school food and physical activity environments, taxes, food marketing, and physical environment (for example, park characteristics in urban environments) have shown some promise. Moreover, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services' systematic review of behavioral interventions related to obesity found that interventions aimed at reducing screen time had sufficient evidence of effectiveness for reducing measured screen time and improving weight-related outcomes. But the results presented here indicate that the prevalence of high BMI in childhood has remained steady for 10 years and has not declined. Moreover, the heaviest boys may be getting even heavier. More research is needed to identify the behavioral, biological, and environmental factors sustaining these levels of high BMI in U.S. children," the authors conclude.

Explore further: US judge overturns state's abortion law (Update)

More information: JAMA. 2010;303[3]:242-249.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

'Extreme' teenagers

Oct 04, 2007

Adolescents have grown taller and put on weight over the last thirty years, but the problem of underweight teens may be worse, a study in the online open access journal BMC Public Health suggests. An analysis of the height, ...

Can't chalk it up to 'baby fat'

Dec 29, 2008

Despite recent widespread media attention given to studies that have indicated one-third of American children have a weight problem, a new study shows just one-third of children who are overweight or obese actually receive ...

Identifying Risk for Obesity in Early Childhood

Sep 05, 2006

A new research study of children’s growth, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, can help parents and pediatricians determine the risk that a child will be overweight at age 12 by examining the child’s earlie ...

Recommended for you

US judge overturns state's abortion law (Update)

1 hour ago

A federal judge on Wednesday overturned a North Dakota law banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy and before many women know they're pregnant.

Changing cows' diet could help tackle heart disease

5 hours ago

Adding oilseed to a cow's diet can significantly reduce the harmful saturated fat found in its milk without compromising the white stuff's nutritional benefits, according to research by the University of ...

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

15 hours ago

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

How kids' brain structures grow as memory develops

Our ability to store memories improves during childhood, associated with structural changes in the hippocampus and its connections with prefrontal and parietal cortices. New research from UC Davis is exploring ...

Progress in the fight against quantum dissipation

( —Scientists at Yale have confirmed a 50-year-old, previously untested theoretical prediction in physics and improved the energy storage time of a quantum switch by several orders of magnitude. ...