FRIDAY, July 31 (HealthDay News) -- In the last 25 years, rates of severe childhood obesity in the United States have tripled, putting increasing numbers of children at risk for diabetes and heart disease, says a new study.
Researchers looked at National Health and Nutrition Survey data on 12,384 youths, ages 2 to 19 years, and found that the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 0.8 percent in the period from 1976 to 1980 to 3.8 percent in 1999 to 2004. Severe obesity correlates to a body mass index that's equal to or greater than the 99th percentile for age and gender.
The finding could mean that 2.7 million children in the United States are severely obese, the researchers said.
Black and Mexican-American children had the largest increases in severe obesity, along with children in families below the poverty level. For example, the percentage of severely obese Mexican-American children rose from 0.9 percent to 5.2 percent.
The researchers also found that a third of severely obese children had metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors for diabetes, stroke and heart attack. The risk factors include high blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels.
The study appears online in Academic Pediatrics.
"Children are not only becoming obese but becoming severely obese, which impacts their overall health," Dr. Joseph Skelton, an obesity expert at Brenner Children's Hospital, part of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., and lead author of the study, said in a news release from the center.
"These findings reinforce the fact that medically based programs to treat obesity are needed throughout the United States, and insurance companies should be encouraged to cover this care," Skelton said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips to help children maintain a healthy weight.
SOURCE: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, news release, July 29, 2009
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