Waistline Obesity Levels Off in Teens, Drops in Preschoolers

Not only are the waistlines of American children and teens leveling off, but they are gradually shrinking for preschoolers, according to a recent study released Monday.

Despite an increase in abdominal obesity from 1988 to 2004, rates have neither increased nor decreased over the past decade, researchers found when they tracked the results of five national surveys.

More than 16,000 children and teens, aged 2 to 18, participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted every two years from 2003 through 2012 through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those with a waist circumference putting them at the 90th percentile or above for their age and sex or with a waist-to-height ratio of at least 0.5 were classified as abdominally obese. The waist circumference measurement classified 18 percent of children and teens aged 2 to 18 as abdominally obese in 2011-2012. Using waist-to-height ratio, 35 percent of children and teens aged 6 to 18 had abdominal obesity.

But the proportion of children aged 2 to 5 who are obese around the middles dropped by about a third, from 16 percent of preschoolers in 2003-2004 to 11 percent in 2011-2012.

These trends in abdominal obesity match those that have been seen in overall obesity among children, but they have greater significance given the health problems associated specifically with abdominal fat. Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are all strongly linked to abdominal obesity even more than with overall obesity.

Although the leveling off was generally seen across ethnicities, disparities in obesity rates remains across demographics.

“Notably, girls, adolescents, and Mexican American youth were more abdominally obese than boys, children, and non-Hispanic whites, respectively,” the authors wrote.

In addition, there was a very small increase in abdominal obesity among African-Americans – but by less than one percentage point that could have been due to chance in the survey sampling.

The findings were published Monday by Bo Xi, MD, of China’s Shandong University, and colleagues in the journal Pediatrics.

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