The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 17% of US children and adolescents aged 2-19 are obese, and the rate has nearly tripled since 1980. The authors of this latest study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggest that despite ongoing initiatives to reduce childhood obesity, children are continuing to gain weight, at an average rate of 1.54kg per decade.
“Aggressive efforts are needed to reverse the positive energy imbalance underlying the childhood obesity epidemic,” the researchers wrote.
While the prevalence of obesity and its health and fiscal burdens have been the subject of extensive research, they claim that estimates of population-wide energy reductions needed to meet public health goals are less well understood, and current strategies are “too few, too small, and too fragmented”.
Extrapolating from current trends in childhood weight gain, US children and adolescents are on track to gain an average 1.8kg by 2020, they said.
The federal government set a formal ten-year goal for childhood obesity reduction in 2000, as part of its Healthy People 2010 strategy for improving public health. After the 2010 target was missed, new goals for 2020 were significantly relaxed, and the latest aim is to reduce childhood obesity by 10% from 2005-2008 levels by 2020. This would bring overall prevalence down to 14.6%.
The researchers wrote that averting an increase in childhood and adolescent obesity would require an average reduction of 41 calories per day, and an additional reduction of 23 calories a day would be needed to meet the 2020 target. In order to reach the 2010 goal of reducing childhood obesity to less than 5% of children and teens, an additional reduction of 120 calories per day would be necessary.
“It is clear that a 5% target was extremely ambitious (even for 2020),” they wrote.