Severe obesity in kids on the rise
This chart shows the trends in prevalence of overweight and obese children between 1999 and 2012.
April 7th, 2014
04:01 PM ET

Severe obesity in kids on the rise

The decline of childhood obesity rates seen in a couple of recent studies may be nothing more than an illusion, according to a new study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at data from more than 26,000 children age 2 to 19 in the United States who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that rates of overweight and obese children have been trending upward since 1999, with significant increases seen recently in the number of severely obese children.

Severe childhood obesity rates have more than doubled since 1999, according to the study. In 1999-2000, less than 1% of children fell into the Class 3 obesity category - meaning they had a body mass index 140% higher than their peers. In 2011-2012, 2.1% of children were in the same category. An additional 5.9% met the criteria for Class 2 obesity.

"I think there's certain kids who are at greatest risk for obesity," said lead study author Asheley Skinner, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "When you put them in an environment like this one... they're more likely to gain a whole lot of weight. That's part of what's going on."

The risks associated with that extra weight are scary.

Obese children are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They're also at risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and psychological problems due to poor self-esteem. Studies show that obese children and adolescents are likely to remain obese as adults.

A separate study published in the journal Pediatrics this week estimates an obese child will incur anywhere from $12,000 to $19,000 in additional medical costs throughout his or her lifetime compared to a normal weight child.

"What we worry about is not that they're going to be unhealthy now, but if they have unhealthy behaviors that are going to follow them into adulthood," Skinner said.

Body mass index for children is calculated a bit differently than it is for adults. While children's height and weight are still used, whether they are "normal," "overweight" or "obese" is determined by a percentile. Most parents are familiar with percentiles, as they are commonly used to chart children's growth in the United States.

A healthy weight child falls between the 5th and the 85th percentiles. An overweight child is the 85th to 95th percentile; an obese child is above the 95th percentile.

Researchers categorize the severity of obesity in levels or "classes." For example, a 10-year-old boy of average height - about 4.5 feet tall - would be obese at 95 pounds, Class 2 obese at 115 pounds, and Class 3 obese at 135 pounds.

Skinner and her colleague, Dr. Joseph Skelton, found that all classes of childhood obesity have increased over the last 14 years. The most significant increases were seen in the severe obesity classes, elementary school girls and adolescent boys. When broken down by race, obesity rates were highest for Hispanic and white girls, and African-American boys.

A few weeks ago, another JAMA study concluded obesity rates in preschool-age children have decreased significantly over the past decade. The study authors used data from the same survey as Skinner, but came up with different results. Why?

The key word is "decade," Skinner says.

The researchers for that study only looked at data from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012. Their starting point - 2003-2004 - is a "blip" in the data, Skinner says, where the rates shot up and then came right back down. Beginning with that year skews the overall pattern, making it look like a decrease. But Skinner, who looked at a longer period, found a slight upward trend.

The overall takeaway from this survey data is that too many children are still overweight or obese, Skinner says, despite education pushes and policy changes.

"It's frustrating to put so much effort into (fighting childhood obesity) and not get any apparent results," she said. "We really need to think about this as a larger, cultural issue."

soundoff (235 Responses)
  1. Mrs Marvel

    The "obesity to percentile" information is slightly misleading. A child in the 95th percentile for weight but above the percentiles for height is less likely to be overweight because of their height. My kid is thin and tall. She registers in the 99th percentile for her age (7 years old) but she can still wear toddler size (5T) dresses because of her build. That being said, she is an active little girl and we encourage that over TV, video games, and sitting on her butt. I see classmates who are truly obese and I feel sad for them.

    Education on how to cook and run a household has disappeared from schools. It's no surprise we have people who don't know how to shop, cook, and cope with having kids. Parents learn the bad habits and then pass them on. Processed foods are loaded with chemicals that our bodies aren't intended to consume. Educate kids more than the faulty government food pyramid and encourage more activity.

    April 8, 2014 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ed - spring, tx

      The kids can't read or write either so it's no small wonder they don't learn cooking and household management in school.

      April 8, 2014 at 14:23 | Report abuse |
    • FFR

      Agreed. My toddler was in the 95th percentile for weight when he was an infant...and in the 100th percentile for height. He was height/weight proportionate, not overweight. He eventually leveled out to 40th and 90th respectively. Now, he's tall and skinny, wearing 3T clothes that are too lose, but long enough to cover his legs.

      April 8, 2014 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
  2. Tony

    Processed foods are cheap, calorie dense, and satiating. I buy whole foods, and I spend way more to feed a family of four on whole foods than buying .80 cent cheesy mac, or $5 for a whole pizza, $1 for a frozen dinner, $1 for a hamburger. Rice & beans every night for dinner? Really? Some people need to get real.

    April 8, 2014 at 12:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bczu

      Saw one of those shows where they are dieting to get gastric bypass. They cooked beans and hotdogs with mustand on buns. As the healthy food! What the heck were they eating before!

      April 8, 2014 at 13:03 | Report abuse |
    • julia sommers

      Tony said...."Rice & beans every night for dinner? Really? Some people need to get real." What do you really mean by this statement TONY?!?!?! When Vegans or Vegetarians eat rice and beans to mirror a whole protein NO ONE seams to have a problem with THAT! But when it's a cultural food, all of a sudden EVERY racist piece of poo has something to say.

      April 8, 2014 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
    • adoptedUSA

      Rice & beans or even lunch & dinner don't have much to do with obesity. What contributes to weight gain is junk snacking all day, such as: oily, salty chips, candies, donuts, cakes, cookies, buckets of popcorn, dozens of pretzels, tubs, of ice cream, all kind of sugary drinks including so called juices, gallons of hormone laden whole milk, junky mac & cheese, etc etc and all these eating happen mostly in home, one doesn't need to stop by McDonald, Burger kings, pop eye's or Roy Rodgers to consume this foods.

      April 8, 2014 at 18:50 | Report abuse |
    • michael


      April 8, 2014 at 21:37 | Report abuse |
  3. lany

    As much as I'm all for watching out for kid's health and encouraging good habits I think some caution is in order here to avoid falling into unnecessary drama. My 11 year old's percentile is in the low 90s which places him in the overweight category but he has a strong build and just about everyone in my immediate family including my nearly adult daughter and myself have been through a 2 year or so period at that age where our weight was a little higher than before and yet we all ended up being a healthy weight by the time we entered into our teens. Even my son's pediatrician isn't worried because she says she sees that happening a lot especially in boys around that age. So monitoring our kids, feeding them well and encouraging exercise is important but so is exercising our own judgement as parents because panicking and stressing your kid about not fitting perfectly into the charts at that age can actually cause issues with food and body image which can be equally if not more detrimental over the long term.

    April 8, 2014 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Captian Sacrasm

    I don't understand why I'm overweight! I drink 10 diet cokes a day and the weight still isn't falling off. I guess I just have a slow metabolism. Maybe I'll switch to diet pepsi instead.

    April 8, 2014 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve

      Good one! Or my favorite...... 'I can eat as much of these as I want, they're fat free". Really? There's a disconnect somewhere

      April 8, 2014 at 16:02 | Report abuse |
  5. T-Bone

    I am just not seeing this problem. I have 2 teenagers in high school and drop them off every morning to a racially and econimically diverse suburban public school. It is the rarity that you see a kid with a weight issue, yet this study wants us to believe that at least a third of kids have a problem. Do you see it where you are?

    April 8, 2014 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. SixDegrees

    "The decline of childhood obesity rates seen in a couple of recent studies may be nothing more than an illusion"

    I'm beyond weary of studies that "may" show something. The whole point of a scientific study is to definitively show something – maybe not what you set out to show, but something. If you can't interpret the results, you either shouldn't be doing science, or you need to look harder and say what they're telling you. But don't publish a study that "may" – or may not – present a conclusion. It's sloppy, lazy thinking.

    April 8, 2014 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. stephen CLT

    attack the problem starting with the parent. if the parent is onboard all is good. else, it is the waste of time.

    April 8, 2014 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ohyeah

    Fat kids come from fat parents.

    April 8, 2014 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Fatty

    What can you expect from the kids if their parents are also fat like pigs.

    April 8, 2014 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. knowing

    don,t worry prices are going to sore and all the over weight people will be thinner and the thin,well,,,,,,

    April 8, 2014 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • At least

      At least they'll be good eatin.

      April 9, 2014 at 09:29 | Report abuse |
  11. I'll admit it

    That blip in the statistics is a polite way to say we medicated with food after 9/11. I know I did.

    April 8, 2014 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Craig Michaels

    I wonder if Mrs. Obama will retract her all is well in obese kid's land, or will she state that kids are increasingly getting more obese every day... As a pediatrician, I see it getting worse every year – sadly, for the great majority, the parents don't care...

    April 8, 2014 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Name*Robert Skversky

    As a physician who has used prescription drug therapy as an essential component for long term weight- loss for over 2 decades; I would encourage studies in overweight/ obese children using metformin ( glucophage/ glumetza). Metformin slows CHO absorption, increases petipheral utilization of CHO, improves insulin sensitivity, causes weight- loss without causing hypoglycemia. It would prevent , delay or dliw the progression if diabetes and has antiinflammatory effects which may decrease inviddnce of various cancers and metabolic syndrome.

    April 9, 2014 at 00:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Name*Robert Skversky

    As a physician who has used prescription medication as an essential component for long-term weight loss for over 2 decades I would encourage studies in overweight/obese children using metformin( glucophage/glumetza). Metformin slows CHO absorption, improves insulin sensitivity, increases peripheral utilization of CHO, causes weight- loss without causing hypoglycemia. It will prevent, delay and/ or slow the progression of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome and may decrease incidence of various weight related cancers.

    April 9, 2014 at 00:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Todd

    Ahh good old percentage mathematics strike again.
    Nothing gets people all up in arms like showing a trend of percentages. There is so much useful information missing that we can use to help analyse the problem. What are the variances over time. Sure the average may be up, but the variances has been lowered. So their may be more kids in Stage 3 obesity, but their weights may be getting closer to the lower limits, and less kids in the upper limits. Perhaps the sampling wasn't random enough. What are the margins of errors how far off from these margins of errors are they...
    If I see a Percentage I see an attempt to scare people. Not an attempt to solve a problem.

    April 9, 2014 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Timmy Suckle

    I kissed my way up to CEO at a health insurance company. Now I take over $1,000,000 of your health care dollars for NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. And that’s just me. Now think about how many other CEOs, VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. are at my company alone. Now multiply that by thousands of others at hundreds of other health insurance companies. From 10 to 25% of your health care dollars go towards administration that adds NO VALUE to your health care. But my company’s PAC dollars will continue to fool you little people into thinking that a single payer system will be bad. Little people like you are so easy to fool. Little people also don’t realize that a single payer system is the ONLY system that would allow little people (as an entire country) to negotiate better health care prices. Little people don’t realize that the Medical Cartels already know that. And that is the reason why the Medical Cartels spend so much PAC money from the hospitals and doctors lobbying against a single payer system. Some little people say that a single payer system would cost you little people more. But if that were true, then wouldn’t the hospitals and doctors WANT that extra money? Yes they would. So why do the Medical Cartels lobby against a single payer system? It’s because the Medical Cartels know it would allow little people to negotiate better health care prices. And that’s what the Medical Cartels are afraid of. Period.
    But us big wigs at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies don’t ever need to worry about health care no matter what it costs. We get our health care paid for one way or another by you little people. And we get the little people that work at our companies to contribute to our PACs. And us big wigs say it’s to protect the little peoples’ jobs. But in reality it would be in the little peoples’ best interest to NOT contribute to the PAC. Again, little people are so easily fooled. I won’t ever have to worry about losing my job with so many little people being brain washed by the Medical Cartels’ PAC money. Not only that, the Medical Cartels’ PAC money is used to elect so many republicans that will never allow a single payer system. Republicans have always fought against any meaningful health care reform. But that’s what our Medical Cartels’ PACs pay them for. Politicians can be bought so easily.
    Pretty soon the only people that will be able to afford health care is us big wigs. And that’s the way it should be. We don’t want you little people using up the resources when we need them. And once again, I thank you little people for capping my SS tax at the $117,000 level. Now I only pay 1.17% SS tax and you little people pay 6.2%. Also, thank you for extending my tax breaks. I’m using the extra money on my vacation houses.

    April 9, 2014 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. tkddoc

    What is class 2/3 obesity? Stop overanalyzing the issue. Obese is obese.

    April 10, 2014 at 08:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. b-true-b-you

    After reading “Severe obesity in kids is on the rise” I’ve come to find that even after looking at all sorts of charts and graphs that make it seem child obesity is decreasing, in all actuality, it isn’t. In fact, the rate has more than doubled since 1999. Should we be worried? Some say yes, while others say no.
    “Obesity in children could cause high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even type 2 diabetes later on in life,” so the article says. Also that obesity may continue into the adult age. The concern about these children is wonderful, but what if they can’t help their weight? What if some children have disorders that cause them to be so much larger than all the others in the class? My brother is on medicine that causes him to be bigger than he should be.
    Personally, I think judging anyone, especially for their weight is cruel. So what if they are larger than the ‘average’ person? Who are any of us to decide what is “overweight”, “underweight”, or “just right?” The term “obese”, I’m sure, is very offensive.
    Don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, the reason some people eat is because of depression? It could possibly be that some who are “obese” have been hurt by words such as “obese”, “fat”, “ugly”, etc. and or other physical acts, so much in live they their body took to food. You cannot judge someone or label them. You do not know their story, their reasoning.
    My opinion may seem rude or offensive, but that’s how I see it. There are so many reasons for both weight gain and weight loss that you couldn’t name them all. Society today is incredibly messed up. These terms hurt people. They could ruin someone.

    April 10, 2014 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. L.S

    It's amazing HOW IGNORANT some of you are! Fat kids come from fat parents, eattin good. Unreal, I have a child that is obese for her age and also off the charts for her height as well. And I guarantee you she isnt obese because her parents are. And i guarantee you she isn't obese from the lack of exercise she gets. Every person is different, and every case is different. To see all you "bully's" on here bullying kids and classifying all over weight kids like this is so incredibly sad. I only have to wonder if then this means that your kids are the ones that are doing the bullying at school. Which this I can only assume truly does start with the parents. If you can act like this as an adult, look what you are teaching your children. My child has an undiagnosed developmental delay, has had several surgeries in her short life, has un explained balance issues and many other health issues. And because of this her metabolism isn't working the way it should. She has been on a doctor monitored diet, monthly weigh ins and tons of activities. If you didn't know her personally you would never know that she has a disability but the fact that she is over weight. She goes to the Y 5 days a week, she is in gymnastics, swimming lessons and soft ball. She is 7 years old and is obese. I will take all the blame for it with no regret, and I will continue to support every effort she makes to change her life for her. She is already so concerned with her weight and always looks in a mirror and calls herself fat, and it's because there is a handful of kids at school that have parents at home making comments like the ones listed above!!! that is sick, very sad and we wonder why we see so much school violence, suicides and depressed kids. Parents need to teach kids that we are all different. If someone doesnt like someone because they are over weight, then don't be friends with them. But that gives you no right to bully them or make comments about them. Becuase I GUARANTEE you are not perfect and you would never hear my kid make any rude comment about the way you dress, look, act or smell. And that is because I have taught all my children that we accept everyone for who they are and if you can't then you simply choose to not be friends with them.

    April 10, 2014 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Jose Sweilo

    It's because of Mexicans. Mexico took over the top stop in world obesity, and their kids are plump as hell. If you look at Mexican populations in the world, you'll see that about 1/3 of all Mexicans reside in the united states. So, this fat race of lardos is skewing the numbers. So, don't worry about it - it doesn't affect normal Americans. It's more of a closing-the-border issue as more of the genetic run-off streams into the US and causes all sorts of disgusting problems.

    April 15, 2014 at 07:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. sammmmmmm


    April 15, 2014 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. ~A~

    I can understand having health issues and being on medicine that makes a kid gain weight. I had to take prednisone and it made me blow up but I can honestly say it was from the medicine and not all the soda, cake, ice cream, etc... because my parents wouldn't give that crap to me except on a special occasion. Half of the cases when you see obese kids, you see them constantly drinking soda, eating an entire box of oreos, a 9 year old eating a large pizza by himself, and I could go on about the diet. The parents then complain and say "well my kids want it". What happened to boundaries? Parents don't want to listen to their kids whine and just give them what they want and don't consider the outcome of it. Very sad! I used to be 175 at 5'2 when I gained weight after meeting my husbands family. I made excuses for my weight all the time but the excuses stopped when I saw the larger picture and started having health issues and decided to lose my weight. How did I lose my weight? I cut out all of the JUNK!

    April 18, 2014 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Liana

    Although I do understand that testing a child's BMI is simply not the way to go due to the fact that muscle mass in not taken into consideration. As I am a young athlete who has a BMI in which says I am OBESE! I am far from obese, yet according to the BMI calculation, I am overweight. Many children run into these problems, but there are many children who can benefit from this information. I do not think that this article is wrong in saying we have TOO many obese children or children who are overweight and heading into the obesity category. I find that in today's day in age, our children are LAZY! Too much television and video games encourage this lifestyle! I know that if I was raised in front of a television all day, I would probably eat what I saw on commercials and rarely get any exercise. Parents absolutely need to set boundaries for their children and having meals together as a family is also something that has been forgotten for many over the years. When families have the time to sit down and eat a healthy meal at dinner, this sets up for a better environment as well as better eating habits for the child. Television as well as video games need to be limited to 30 minutes or less a day as well as fast food and other unhealthy snacks should be cut down or eliminated all together! Healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables should be provided to children and outdoor activities should be highly promoted. I blame this largely on the parenting skills today. Parents no longer know how to discipline their children, provide a stable atmosphere, as well as provide healthy snacks for their kids to snack on. If we do not change this behavior, our future will evolve around the lazy lifestyle!

    April 23, 2014 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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