Obesity Expert at Brenner Children’s Hospital Says Rates of Severe Childhood Obesity have Tripled

July 27, 2009

Rates of severe childhood obesity have tripled in the last 25 years, according to a recent study by an obesity expert at Brenner Children’s Hospital.

“In addition to seeing the overall numbers of childhood obesity rise dramatically, we saw a significant jump in the number of severely obese children,” said Joseph Skelton, M.D., an obesity expert at Brenner Children’s Hospital and Director of the Brenner FIT (Families in Training) Program. “We saw that children who are classified as severely obese are also much sicker and are at higher risk of developing chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes. This reinforces the fact that medically-based programs to treat obesity are needed throughout the United States and insurance companies should be encouraged to cover these types of programs.”

Skelton’s study was published by Academic Pediatrics and is available on-line at www.academicpediatrics.com. The paper will be in the September print edition.

“After reviewing the data, we saw significant jumps in the numbers of children who were considered obese and those who were considered severely obese,” Skelton said. “The overall prevalence rate of BMI greater than or equaling the 99th percentile increased by more than 300 percent from 1976 and increased 72 percent since 1994. This shows that more children are not only becoming obese but becoming severely obese, which will significantly impact their overall health and place them at increased risk for adult obesity and cardiovascular disease.”    

Severe childhood obesity is a new classification for children and describes those with a BMI that is equal to or greater than 99th percentile for age and gender. For example, a 10-year-old child with a BMI of 24 would be considered severely obese, Skelton said.

“Morbid obesity is a classification used for adults only,” Skelton said. “An adult with a BMI of 40 would be considered morbidly obese. However, since a child’s height and weight will change as they grow older it was harder to make the same designation for a child. This study is the first of its kind to use the new classification and detail the severity of the problem.”

The study found that children who are considered severely obese have higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease and other life-threatening health issues than those considered only obese. Same as with obese children, the rates of severe childhood obesity are higher among minority groups and those at or close to poverty levels.  

An expert committee convened by the American Medical Association, the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services proposed the new classification in 2007. Skelton and colleagues compared data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The study population included 12,384 children representing approximately 71 million U.S. children ages 2 to 19 years. It was estimated that 2.7 million children in the U.S. are considered severely obese.


Media Relations

Main Number: news@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-4587