U.S. Obesity Rates Level Off, Remain High

The good news is that obesity rates overall among children and adults appear to be leveling off. But the bad news is that these rates have consistently remained high since 2003, a black eye for those who have worked for years to curb the obesity crisis.

 "Many efforts both at the national level and at state and local levels focus on reducing childhood obesity," the researchers wrote in a study released today in JAMA. But these efforts may not have contributed to significant reductions in obesity in any age group, especially for males.

Nearly 36 percent of adults and 17 percent children are obese, - meaning they have a body mass index (BMI) above 30  - meaning they have a body mass index (BMI) above 3 , according to the 2010 results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). These numbers were similar to the data taken from 1999 to 2008.

The number doubles when the prevalence of people who are simply overweight instead of obese are also taken into account. Overweight indicates a body mass index between 25 adn 25.9. Nearly 70 percent of men and women are either considered overweight or obese, according to the latest survey data. Nearly 32 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are considered overweight or obese.

Slight increases were found in males of both age groups. Nearly 36 percent of men are considered obese, which is a slight increase from previous years.

"The rapid increases we saw in the 1980s and 1990s have not occurred in the last decade. It's leveling off," said Cynthia Ogden, epidemiologist and lead author of the study which looked at children and adolescent obesity rates.

But the studies did not address why obesity rates have leveled off compared to previous decades.

Ogden and her colleagues also found a slight increase in body mass index (BMI) among adolescent males ages 12 through 19 years, but not among any other age group or among females.

Screening for cholesterol levels - found by a blood test - in children as young as age 9 may help prevent obesity, according to recommendations released in a report by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, an arm of the National Institutes of Health.  

The seemingly controversial recommendation highlighted in an editorial written by the University of Washington may lead to younger children taking statins, a class of cholesterol lowering medications that have been shown to be successful for many adults.

However, the long-term benefits of taking statins are unclear, the editorial authors wrote.

According to Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein college, the emphasis should be on physical activity at home.

"Before we give pill, why don't we give bigger priority to lifestyle," said Ayoob. "There are no complications for a low calorie diet, except weight loss. The side effects of medications are far worse." 

 With kids, there's more time to learn healthier habits, he said.