Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Statement Regarding Release of Estimates of Obesity Prevalence Among U.S. Children and Teens

Study shows a striking decline in obesity rates among young children. But boys ages 6 to 19 are lagging, and racial and ethnic disparities persist across age groups.

    • January 13, 2010

The following is a statement by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

New data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that the efforts of parents, communities, schools, governments and business leaders are beginning to make a difference.

According to the data, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the prevalence of obesity and overweight among children and adolescents declined slightly since the 2003-2006 NHANES study period. Overall, the percentage of children who are obese or overweight dropped in 2007-2008 to 31.7 from 31.9 in 2003-2006. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defines “obese or overweight” as body mass index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile on CDC growth charts.

The data show a striking decline in obesity rates (BMI ≥ 95th percentile) among children ages 2 to 5. Obesity prevalence among that age group declined to 10.4 percent in 2007-2008 from 12.4 percent in 2003-2006. This means that, among children ages 2 to 5, we’ve returned to obesity rates we last saw in 1999-2000. Because obese children are at higher risk for growing into obese teens and obese adults, this decline is a positive indicator for the future.

While the data released today are encouraging, we cannot allow this progress to lull us into a sense of complacency. Nearly one-third of our children are overweight or obese, placing them at heightened risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and a host of other serious diseases. And BMI continues to increase among the heaviest boys ages 6 to 19. We cannot rest until the childhood obesity epidemic is reversed.

The data also show a troubling lack of progress in eliminating racial and ethnic disparities. Obesity and overweight prevalence is 8.9 percentage points higher among Hispanic children ages 2 to 19 than among non-Hispanic Whites. Among non-Hispanic Black children, it is 6.6 percentage points higher.

These statistics reinforce the need to do all we can to make it easier for children to be active and eat healthy foods—especially in communities with the highest rates of obesity and the fewest resources.

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