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A recent study provides further proof that there is a rise in severe obesity among children in the United States.
Science & Health

A recent study provides further proof that there is a rise in severe obesity among children in the United States.

New research further supports the notion that obesity rates among young children in the United States are increasing.

There was a glimmer of hope that children enrolled in a government food program might be defying the trend of increasing obesity rates. Previous studies showed a slight decline in rates about ten years ago for these children. However, a recent update published in Pediatrics on Monday reveals that the rate has slightly increased again by 2020.

The rise is similar to other statistics across the country, indicating that approximately 2.5% of preschool-aged children were classified as severely obese during this time frame.

One of the authors of the study, Heidi Blanck from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commented, “We were previously making good progress, but now we are noticing a rise in numbers. These results are concerning to us.”

The research examined young children between the ages of 2 and 4 who were participating in the Women, Infants and Children program. This program offers nutritious foods and additional resources to families with preschool-aged kids who are living in poverty. The weight and height of the children were recorded.

The study revealed that the obesity rate among children in the program was 2.1% in 2010. After six years, the rate decreased to 1.8%. However, in 2020, it increased to 2%. This means that approximately 33,000 out of over 1.6 million children in the WIC program were severely obese.

A significant rise was observed in 20 states, with California having the highest increase at 2.8%. Certain racial and ethnic groups also experienced notable increases. The highest rate, approximately 2.8%, was among Hispanic children.

According to experts, being severely obese at a young age is extremely difficult to reverse and greatly linked to long-term health issues and premature mortality.

Blanck stated that it is not evident why the rise happened.

Experts believed that the decrease in WIC obesity rates was due to policy modifications in 2009, which removed juice from infant food packages, reduced saturated fat content, and aimed to increase accessibility to fruits and vegetables.

According to Dr. Sarah Armstrong, a researcher at Duke University specializing in childhood obesity, the struggles faced by impoverished families may be more difficult now than they were a decade ago. Despite some small adjustments to the WIC package, it still falls short in adequately addressing their daily challenges.

The scientists encountered difficulties as the amount of children enrolled in WIC has decreased over the last ten years. Additionally, the study spanned through 2020, the year of the COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in fewer parents bringing their children to medical appointments. This led to a decrease in the overall amount of comprehensive data available.

Deanna Hoelscher, a researcher at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health specializing in childhood obesity, described the study as “very well-done” despite its limitations. She believes it provides insight into the current situation.

The events of 2020 have yet to be fully understood. Limited research has shown a significant rise in childhood obesity, particularly during the pandemic. This could be attributed to children being confined to their homes, causing disruptions in eating and bedtime habits, as well as a decrease in physical activity.

Hoelscher stated that they believe the situation will deteriorate.