Childhood Obesity Rate Now Exceeds 1 in 5 Kids, Teenagers

— Troubling trends since 2011 across age, race, and ethnicity

by James Lopilato, Staff Writer, MedPage Today July 25, 2022

Childhood Obesity Rate Now Exceeds 1 in 5 Kids, Teenagers | MedPage Today

A photo of an overweight teen boy splashing water at a lake.

Childhood and adolescent obesity has significantly increased over the last decade, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

From 2011-2012 to 2017-2020, youth obesity increased from 17.7% to 21.5% — climbing in boys from 18.1% to 21.4% (P=0.004), and in girls from 17.2% to 21.6% (P=0.002), showed a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics.

There had been significant increases in obesity among children 2-5 years of age and adolescents 12-19 years of age in particular, as well as in kids identifying as Mexican, Black, and white, reported Amanda Staiano, PhD, of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a colleague.

« Because of the significant increase in obesity, there is an urgent need for identification of antecedents and correlates of adiposity and cardiometabolic risk for early obesity prevention, » the authors said.

Childhood obesity has an established association with cardiometabolic comorbidities later in life.

« Obesity is a chronic disease that will involve multiple check-ins and monitoring progress throughout childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood, » Staiano told MedPage Today.

« Eligible patients should be considered for weight loss medications and referred to comprehensive metabolic and bariatric surgery programs, » she continued. « Pediatric healthcare providers should also be advocates for healthy environments — we all should contribute to creating healthier eating and activity environments for our children to thrive. »

Besides routine screening for pediatric obesity, clinicians should also brush up on motivational interviewing « so [they] feel comfortable talking about obesity with the parent/caregiver and the patient and helping the family to identify options for obesity treatment, » she added in an email.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force currently has a B recommendation for screening and behavioral intervention for patients with pediatric obesity. The most effective interventions are said to comprise at least 26 contact hours of multi-component treatment over several months to 1 year.

This cross-sectional study used NHANES data from 2011 to 2020.

Height and weight were collected from 14,967 children and adolescents 2 to 19 years of age (mean age 9.81 years, 50.9% boys).

Obesity was defined as BMI at or above the 95th percentile for each age based on the CDC growth chart.

Study authors noted a decrease in NHANES response rates in recent years, limiting their sample size.

In addition, testing in 2020 had been stopped early due to the pandemic.

Furthermore, sample sizes and number of obesity cases were small when data were stratified for age, race, and ethnicity.

Despite these limitations, Staiano maintained the importance of implementation science to getting evidence-based lifestyle and behavior treatment programs into the community.

« Healthcare providers, insurance companies, and families need to work together to ensure access to treatment options.

More research is needed on how to adapt these programs to make them more accessible and sustainable for families, and how to integrate medication and, when appropriate, surgery into the treatment of youth with obesity, » she urged.

« ‘Watchful waiting’ does not work — kids need support now to turn the tide towards healthier bodies, » she said.

author['full_name']James Lopilato is a staff writer for Medpage Today. He covers a variety of topics being explored in current medical science research.


The study was funded the National Institute of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and National Institute of General Medicine Sciences.

Staiano reported no conflict of interest.

Primary Source

JAMA Pediatrics

Source Reference: Hu K, Staiano AE « Trends in obesity prevalence among children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years in the US from 2011 to 2020 » JAMA Pediatr 2022; DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.2052.