Almost 4 Percent of Children May be Morbidly Obese

May 18, 2007

Almost 4 percent are at or above the 99th percentile for Body Mass Index, meaning that about 2.7 million U.S. children could be considered morbidly obese. That percentage goes higher for boys, blacks, poor, and adolescent poor.

“These numbers are alarming, especially when you tease out specific groups, such as African-American children whose morbid obesity rate is almost 6 percent,” said Joseph Skelton, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and an author of the study. Skelton is also program director of NEW (Nutrition, Exercise and Weight Management) Kids Program at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Morbid obesity for children has not yet been defined, but in adults, it is classified as anyone with a BMI at or above 40. (BMI is a height to weight ratio.) A BMI at or above 40 is also the point at which bariatric surgery for weight loss may first be considered for adolescents with other complications of obesity.

According to data from 12,384 US children and adolescents in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2004, 3.8 percent of children are at or above the 99th percentile. Also at that mark:

·             4.6 percent boys

·             2.9 percent girls

·             5.7 percent Blacks

·             5.2 percent Mexican Americans

·             3.1 percent Caucasians

“With 1.3 percent of teens at or above a BMI of 40, that translates into 418,000 teens. This large number of teens who might be considered for bariatric surgery should be alarming to the health care system and society as a whole,” said Stephen Cook, M.D., an assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center and an author of the study. “As opposed to considering surgery, coverage for intensive family-based behavioral treatments needs to be strongly considered. As a society, we need to reverse this trend or our children will, for the first time in human history, have a shorter lifespan than their parents.”

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