The Prevalence of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity

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The worldwide prevalence of overweight and obesity among children is not evenly distributed. The overall global prevalence of both is 10%, while in Europe it is 20%, and in the Americas 30% [4]. Even in Europe the distribution is not homogeneous but ranges from 10% to 20% for Eastern Bloc nations to 20% to 40% for non-Eastern Bloc Mediterranean nations [5]. In countries where the

Figure 5.1. Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents ages 6-19 years from 1963 to 2002. The data exclude pregnant women starting with 1971-1974. Pregnancy status is not available for 1963-1965. Data for 19631965 are for children 6-11 years old; data for 1966-1970 are for adolescents 12-17 years old, not 12-19 years old. (Reprinted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website [7].)

Figure 5.1. Prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents ages 6-19 years from 1963 to 2002. The data exclude pregnant women starting with 1971-1974. Pregnancy status is not available for 1963-1965. Data for 19631965 are for children 6-11 years old; data for 1966-1970 are for adolescents 12-17 years old, not 12-19 years old. (Reprinted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website [7].)

current rate is comparatively low, the trend is still not healthy. In Japan the prevalence was 11.1% for boys and 10.2% for girls in 2000, but those statistics represent an 82% increase for boys and a 44% increase for girls compared to Japan's 1976 to 1980 data [6].

In the United States, the prevalence of overweight and obese children and adolescents since 1980 has increased at an alarming rate. In the last 20 years, the prevalence of obese children aged 6 to 11 years more than doubled from 7% to 15.3% and for ages 12 to 19 tripled from 5% to 15.5% (Figure 5.1) [7]. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for 1999 to 2002 reports that 31% of children 6 to 19 years old are either overweight or obese, and 16% are obese, with significant differences among races. The obesity rate for non-Hispanic whites is 13.6%, for non-Hispanic blacks is 20.5%, and for Mexican Americans is 22.2% [8]. The disturbing disparity between the races may be even greater based upon where the child lives, with Hispanic American children who live in inner city neighborhoods having twice the prevalence of overweight and obesity as the national average and 1.7 times the national Mexican American average [9]. The weight disparity between races continues with the relationship of weight and socioeconomic status (SES). Overweight non-Hispanic white, Hispanic, and Asian adolescent girls have an inverse relationship with SES. However, non-Hispanic, black adolescent girls are not less likely to be overweight with increasing SES, which means a low SES does not account for the overweight prevalence among non-Hispanic, black adolescent girls [10]. Finally, another alarming trend in the obesity epidemic among children and adolescents over the past three decades is the increase in the degree of obesity among those who are obese today compared to obese children and adolescents 30 years ago [11].

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