Kids not only obese but “extremely obese”

March 19th, 2010  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  8 Comments

A recent study that looked at the weights and heights of more than 710,000 children aged 2 to 19 found that 7% of boys and 5% of girls — and as many as 12% of children in some ethnic groups — were “extremely obese”. Overweight is defined as the 85th or higher percentile on the growth charts, according to guidelines from the CDC. Obese is defined as the 95th percentile or higher. Extreme obesity is defined as 120% of the 95th percentile for weight for age and sex.

Thus, for example, a normal 10 year old weighs approximately 70 lb. An “extremely obese” 10 year old could be upwards of 140 lb.

37.1% of the children studied were overweight; 19.4% were obese; 6.4% were extremely obese.

Full story in WebMD


  1. Katy says:

    March 19th, 2010at 9:14 am(#)

    I read the other day in a article that these growth charts are actually based on numbers taken in the 1960s and 70s. So a child in the 85th percentile is not actually heavier than 85 percent of his peers; he’s heavier than 85 percent of children his age two generations ago. He might still be overweight for his height, or he might not; but the charts alone don’t prove it.

  2. Meg says:

    March 20th, 2010at 10:17 pm(#)

    You’re right, Katy, that unless corrected for height these comparisons are pretty meaningless. Why does the determination of healthy weight include a correction for height in adults but not children? There are huge differences in height at all childhood ages.

    I was 5′ 8″ at age 10, which sucked for many reasons, not least that the 10 year old boy I was desssssperately in love with at the time was 5′ 0″. I would probably also have been classed as at least obese under this measure because, despite having an entirely proportionate body shape and weight for my height, I towered over all the other kids of my age. Measuring childhood obesity like this is not helpful for individual kids, but is also not particularly good population science.

  3. Die Pinguine says:

    March 21st, 2010at 9:11 am(#)

    Forget the charts. I’ll agree with the study based on what I see. Where I live, it was rare to see really fat kids 10+ years ago. Now I see lots of kids who are as wide as they are tall. I’m almost tempted to go up to their parents and ask if I could borrow their roly poly kids to use as a medicine ball. Yeah, it’s THAT bad.

  4. RW says:

    March 22nd, 2010at 8:52 am(#)

    What Meg and Katy said. In the UK, we’ve had a recent spate of examples of kids who are not by any stretch of the imagination fat being labelled “obese” based on the percentile charts:

    Whatever one’s stance on weight issues, it’s clearly destructive for healthy, active kids to get these scare letters saying that because they are “overweight!!!” they are doomed, DOOMED to cancer and DEATH. That’s fatphobia taken to the point of complete separation from reality, and has nothing to do with health.

  5. AQ says:

    March 22nd, 2010at 10:22 am(#)

    While the charts are indeed based on data that old, they are charts of BMI, not straight weight. The overweight and obesity cutoffs for children are still based on BMI percentiles, which means they are adjusted for height.

  6. KicknKnit says:

    March 23rd, 2010at 11:47 am(#)

    But BMI is false unless done with a buoyance test.

    Check out the pic. You can have a high BMI and not be fat.

  7. Sam says:

    March 23rd, 2010at 6:29 pm(#)

    While I agree with the technical points about BMI, bouyancy, height/weight/age and how they can impact obesity numbers, I think the bigger point here is in that order to measure changes in children’s body composition over time, we must have some rudimentary measures on which to base conclusions. The most obvious place to start is height and weight. Now you can argue, as some of you have, that muscle mass/BMI effects can skew these results and a couple of examples were cited. But let’s remember the study looked at children between 2 and 19. Frankly, I don’t know many 2 year olds who carry enough extra muscle mass to jack up their BMI to ranges outside the norm. For most adolescents in this age range, gaining large amounts of muscle mass (even for post-pubescent males) without rigorous training and proper diet, is difficult and most likely the exception rather than the rule.

    I believe that this study was attempting to point out an alarming jump in percentages of reported overweight, obese, and extremely obese seen in children. The mere fact that we are actually doing these studies is alarming. I personally would like these studies to go one step further and correlate these numbers to activity levels, participation in sports, time spent watching TV/Video gaming, etc. I personally think that childhood obesity is real and gaining on us fast, esp in the US.

  8. LM says:

    March 27th, 2010at 11:23 pm(#)

    Childhood obesity is real, but we’re not using the right tools to measure it. BMI is a poor way of measuring anything relating to fitness/obesity, anyway. Can we measure these kids’ body fat percentages, for example?

    And why are we measuring 2-year-olds, by the way? Babies and toddlers are supposed to be fat – that’s how they get the energy to grow their little brains and their little bodies. I was a very overweight baby – off the charts at birth, very fat throughout my first two years of life. After that, I became a very skinny kid and then, a thin adult. I have never been overweight in my life – not after age 2, anyway.

    I’m worried that clueless middle-class parents will take one look at their healthy, chubby baby and say “OMG! This child is obese! Gotta put him on a diet!” – and screw up the kid’s metabolism for life.

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