A new study shows that 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.
Researchers looked at National Health and Nutrition Survey data on 12,384 youths, ages two 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. The study appears online in Academic Pediatrics.
The finding could mean that 2.7 million children in the United States are severely obese.
Black and Mexican-American children had the largest increases in severe obesity, along with children in families below the poverty level.
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.
"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.
"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.